MINUTES OF THE FORTY SEVENTH MEETING OF THE ASSEMBLY COMMISSION HELD ON THURSDAY 18 JUNE 2009 AT 12NOON IN THE SLIEVE DONARD HOTEL, NEWCASTLE
Mr Stephen Moutray
Mr Paul Butler
Rev Dr Robert Coulter
Ms Carmel Hanna
Mr Sean Neeson
Mr T Reaney
Mr T Logue
Mr S Welch
Mr J Stewart
Dr G McGrath
Mr R Stewart
Mr H Widdis
Mr R Good
Ms C McGowan
1. CHAIRMAN’S BUSINESS
The Speaker sought any declarations of interest from the Commission in relation to items of business being discussed. There were no disclosures.
The Speaker welcomed Members to a special meeting of the Commission which had been called to provide the opportunity to discuss progress achieved in the proposed review of the Members’ Financial Services Handbook and also to examine proposals for increasing transparency in relation to Members’ OCA claims. He also wished to take the opportunity to up-date Members on issues relating to the North-South Parliamentary Forum.
1.1 North South Parliamentary Forum
The Speaker informed the Commission that to date he had been unable to gain consensus from Party Leaders on how to progress work of the North South Parliamentary Forum. Following further discussion, the Commission agreed to hold a further meeting with the counterpart Commission from within the House of Oireachtas following the summer recess to discuss issues of mutual interest, including a proposal for an informal conference of elected Members, jointly hosted by both the Speaker and the Ceann Comhairle.
1.2 Review of Members Financial Services Handbook
The Speaker provided Members with an update in relation to the review of the Members Financial Services Handbook. He informed Members that he had held discussions with Party Leaders on the 25 June 2009 to discuss the issues within the document and had further requested written submissions from Parties by 30 June 2009 on the matters raised.
The Speaker informed Members that there was a desire from Party Leaders to have an independent mechanism for determining members’ salaries and allowances. He further reported that he had held an initial meeting with Minister Goggins in order to explore the possibility of amending the Northern Ireland Act 1998 to enable salaries/allowances to be determined independently.
The Commission recognised that the process for legislative change could be lengthy and agreed that there was a requirement on them as a corporate body to address recommendations raised within the report by the Senior Salaries Review Body and by the Standards and Privileges Committee. The Commission agreed that a 2-strand approach be taken to the matter and that a formal paper addressing both the introduction of an independent mechanism and the progression of existing recommendations be brought for their consideration after summer recess.
Ms C Hanna joined the meeting.
The Speaker welcomed Ms Hanna to her first meeting as a Commission Member and wished her every success in her position. The Speaker also paid tribute to the contributions made by Mr A Maginness during his time as a Commission Member since restoration in May 2007.
Mr S Neeson left the meeting.
The Speaker also raised the issue of increased disclosure in relation to the claims from Members out of their Office Costs Allowance (OCA) which had been discussed at the meeting held on 21 May 2009. Following further consideration in relation to the necessary work required by the finance office during the summer recess period, the Assembly Commission agreed that all details of MLAs’ expenses from April 2003 onwards would be made available online by the end of November 2009.
The Speaker reported that he had been informed that the first release of information, which had been previously agreed for 2009/2010, would now be released at the end of September 2009 with the further information going back to 2003 being made available by the end of November 2009. The Speaker further confirmed that all Members would receive a copy of their expenses information in advance of publication.
2. ANY OTHER BUSINESS
The Speaker concluded the meeting by thanking the Commission Members for their contributions and co-operation during the Parliamentary year. The Speaker also paid tribute to the hard work of Officials in progressing the work of the Assembly Commission during the same period.
3. DATE OF NEXT MEETING
The next meeting of the Assembly Commission to be arranged for Thursday 24 September 2009 at 1.00pm in Room 106
The meeting ended at 5.28pm
Clerk to the Assembly Commission