About eleven years old, visiting London for the first time, I queued up with my family and sat in the public gallery of the House of Commons and listened for a short time while a few MPs debated something unmemorable about foreign policy.
Much closer to home, I’ve been to many events in the Long Gallery up at Parliament Buildings, sat inside the Assembly chamber while the McCrea/McElduff double act explained the finer details of life as an MLA, and even toured the building courtesy of the tweetup earlier this year.
I’ve spent way too much time ‘people watching’ at party conferences where politicians and party members hang out in their own comfort zones. I’ve sat in a council meeting and watched a councillor (who was also an MLA and a Minister) read Slugger O’Toole on a council laptop while other members paid tribute to a recently deceased colleague.
But in all this time, I’ve never sat through any actual Assembly business. Time to fix that.
Yes there’s a live stream through the NI Assembly website (relaunching today) and BBC’s Democracy Live, but it’s like watching a football match on TV through the eyes of the TV camera and the director in the gallery who’s deciding where you should be looking.
The Assembly goes into recess this week until the New Year. What has the NI Assembly achieved since the election in May? An draft Economic Strategy and a long awaited draft Programme for Government? How do the MLAs react and behave when they know they’re safely out of shot?
I’ll be up at Stormont on Tuesday to sit in on some of the Assembly and committee business. Partly out of personal curiosity, but also to see how accessible local democracy is to anyone interested in catching a 20A Metro bus to turn up to watch.
I’ll also try to catch up with some MLAs to get their end of term report on the Assembly. What do the new intake of MLAs make of their new jobs? (Feel free to email me [alaninbelfast AT gmail DOT com] if you’re keen to volunteer to talk.) In addition to no heckling from the public gallery, there’s no tweeting, so any reaction from what I see will be delayed until I’ve vacated my seat!
But I first need your help to highlight which bits of Tuesday’s business to take a particular interest in …
Given that committees meet in parallel with the main Assembly plenary session, the business diary for Tuesday reads a bit like an edition of the Radio Times. Tuesday’s Order Paper includes a motion on fractures resulting from osteoporosis, question time for the education and justice ministers, a private members’ motion on pay day loans, finishing with an adjournment debate about the amalgamation of three inner-South Belfast primary schools on a new site at the City Hospital.
And the committees:
It’s a bit of a one off, so over to you for ideas …