What’ll happen #onthehill on Tuesday? I’m planning to find out …

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?

Tuesday is the last day of plenary sessions, while committees will continue to meet until Thursday.

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 …


  • “NI Assembly website (relaunching today)”

    I wonder who came up with the brilliant timing wheeze: 12.12.12 – the site relaunches at High Noon. Look out for Frank Miller on the Metro 20A 🙂

  • Professor Yattle

    So much for bloggers.
    One ticket for the public gallery and you’re as giddy as a schoolgirl. How easy would you be to bamboozle with a little ‘access’, the oldest political/media trick in the book?

  • “How do the MLAs react and behave when they know they’re safely out of shot?”

    Alan, Room 401 might be the place to be – on Thursday. You might need some cash for access 😉

  • Nevin – “Room 401 …” – you’re referring to the NI Assembly Business Trust which exists to make sure the MLAs (many of whom have no business experience) are well informed about the realities of the NI business and economic market.

    I better not mention tonight’s NI Assembly and Business Trust Christmas Reception in case Professor Yattle accuses me of being a “giddy schoolgirl” again!

    But it will be a good excuse to get someone on the NIABT board to explain the context and value of what they do!

  • “how accessible local democracy is to anyone interested”

    Michael McGimpsey is not impressed:

    So thirteen years on from the signing of the Good Friday Agreement are the locally elected ministers making the difference that we envisaged and delivering for communities in South Belfast and across Northern Ireland?

    Meeting constituents in South Belfast I do not believe people on the ground believe the Assembly is working for them. There is a very real feeling of ‘them and us’ among many people I meet. .. South Belfast News: “Big house a cold house for voters”

    Wear your thermals, Alan – and make sure you sit at the back of the bus with the MLAs.

  • Professor Yattle

    There you go again, giddy as a schoolgirl over an invite to some Stormont reception.
    Woodward and Bernstein you aint.

  • Mick Fealty


    Smarten up lad. If you are going to complain, at least demonstrate a point. If you can’t or wont you know where the exit is!

  • Professor Yattle

    The point’s clear – your ‘citizen journalists’ are just starry-eyed wannabes. Alan from Lisburn will be back here on Wednesday frothing like a celebrity correspondent.

  • Mick Fealty

    And thats ad hominem: ie, not a point at all. All he’s done is announce he’s going.

    The Beeb would not have made a story out of Sammy Wilson’s poor taste joke would if Alan hadn’t grabbed it and blogged it first.

    Now, raise a real point, and we can talk. If you can locate the ball, play it! Otherwise…

  • Drumlins Rock

    Yattle, you musnt be frrom here if you don’t get the touch of irony in Alan’s article, general view of the assembly? its working, which is quite an achievment, but it ain’t working very well, smaller more efficient with a proper opposition system would improve it I think. As for the lack of legislation, good, some stupid stuff has already slipped through, beef up those committees, get them working hard and less showtime in the chamber.

  • Professor Yattle

    You’re delusional. Every year, Sammy Wilson’s ‘comic turn’ is the best-covered part of the conference after the leader’s speech. You think it only made it onto the beeb this year because there was a blogger in the audience? Hilarious.

  • “to get someone on the NIABT board to explain the context and value of what they do!”

    Alan, it’s been some time still I looked at the NIABT website. Perhaps it’s time I updated NALIL blog as the annual accounts are no longer online. I see they still claim that NIABT is ‘an independent, neutral and self-financing educational charity’ yet it’s in receipt of publicly funded services.

  • Quick audioboo with Leslie Cree MLA who is a trustee of the NI Assembly and Business Trust, and explained about the role of the trust and how it sits at arms length from the NI Assembly.

  • Interesting conversation with Leslie Cree, Alan. The gentle approach you use can be just as revealing as the confrontational one beloved of some interviewers.