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Official Report: Tuesday 30 June 2020


The Assembly met at 10:30 am (Mr Deputy Speaker [Mr Beggs] in the Chair).
Members observed two minutes' silence.

Matter of the Day

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Beggs): Mr John O'Dowd has been given leave to make a statement of condolence to the family of Noah Donohoe, which fulfils the criteria set out in Standing Order 24. Other Members who wish to be called should rise in their place and continue to do so. All Members who are called will have up to three minutes to speak on the subject. I remind Members that I will not take any points of order on this or any other matter until this item of business is finished.

Mr O'Dowd: Thank you to the House for giving Members the opportunity to express their condolences on the death of young Noah Donohoe and to pass on their condolences to his mother, Fiona.

When news started to come through that a young boy was missing in north Belfast, people hoped that it would end up OK and that the young lad would be found, and our hopes and prayers were with him and his family. In a period when there has been so much bad news, sadness and grief in our community, Noah going missing caught people's attention, and the tragedy that unfurled before us is the nightmare of every parent. I am a parent of a young boy who is around the same age as Noah, and we all fear for their safety. We give them the freedom and the opportunities to go out and live their lives as best they can, but every parent fears that the circumstances that young Noah found himself in will come to their door. That is part of the reason why we have all taken a step back and had Noah in our thoughts since the announcement of him going missing and since the tragedy of his remains being found.

Noah's mother said that he would "change the world", and there is little doubt that he has changed all our worlds. Those photographs of him that beam out of our television screens and from the front of newspapers will be embedded in our minds forever. That infectious smile, that glint in his eye and the tributes paid to him by his friends, his school and particularly by his mother will live with us for a very long time.

I did not know Noah or his family, but it is only right and proper that the Assembly stops, takes a moment, and pays tribute to him and his parents. I also pay tribute to the emergency services, the search and rescue teams and all sections of the community who came together to help in the search for Noah. My thoughts and prayers are with them and with Noah's family.

With your indulgence, Mr Speaker, I will mention a young boy who lost his life over the weekend in my constituency. Young Luke Lawson, a year 8 student at Lismore, died tragically over the weekend. Again, another nightmare for any parent. Our thoughts and prayers are with Luke's family as well. Thank you.

Mr Humphrey: On behalf of the Democratic Unionist Party, I extend our deepest sympathy to Noah's mother, Fiona, and the family circle. May God bless and sustain them in the days ahead. I also extend our sympathy to the principal, Dr Paul McBride, and the school family of St Malachy's College on the Antrim Road where Noah was a pupil.

This is a desperately sad situation. A 14-year-old boy, in the prime of his youth, taken from us far too soon. Noah Donohoe's disappearance united an, at times, fractured community in north Belfast. The many hundreds of volunteers who joined the search across the lower part of the constituency was a testament to that. They came from across the community and, indeed, some came from across the country, with the one aim of finding Noah and bringing him home safely to his mother and family. Sadly, on Saturday, we received the sad news that Noah had been found and his life had ended. It was the news that all of us feared, and none of us wanted to hear. The outpouring of grief was exemplified on Sunday evening at two services, one at Skegoneill and another on the Antrim Road outside his school, which ,again, united the community.

Noah was very clearly a special young man and has left a huge gap in the life of his family, his school and his school friends. He will never be forgotten. He has a special place in the minds and now in the lifeblood of north Belfast and its people. They have united in grief as they united in the search to find him.

I, too, join in the thanks to the emergency services. In particular, I thank Superintendent Muir Clark, who led the team in such a professional way, and all the officers from the Police Service of Northern Ireland for how they conducted themselves in such a committed, professional and dedicated way. I also thank Sean McCarry, the regional commander of the Community Rescue Service. Through the week, I spoke to Sean, and I spoke to him again on Sunday evening to thank him and his volunteers. They are all volunteers, and they came at all times of the day to search for Noah. They gave leadership. The community also gave leadership — as I said, at times, it is fractured — with many hundreds of people coming together. I joined the search for two evenings last week, and hundreds of people turned up at the Hubb. I want to thank the Hubb — Jim Crothers and his team — for the leadership that they gave. I also thank two of my party colleagues, Pastor Brian Madden and Councillor Dean McCullough, for their exemplary conduct and the role that they played.

Many people joined the search. It is a credit to that community and our city. I am deeply sorry about the outcome. I ask everyone to remember in prayer Noah's mother, his family and school friends in the days ahead. Thank you.

Mr O'Toole: No words that we say today will console Fiona Donohoe and Noah's family. The loss that they have suffered is simply unimaginable. John O'Dowd spoke eloquently about the fear that was struck into all parents and people who look after young people when they saw the news about Noah's disappearance. William Humphrey said, correctly, that everyone across this place longed for a positive outcome in the search for Noah. Indeed, people from across Belfast and across Northern Ireland went to north Belfast to look for Noah. I, too, pay tribute to the stellar work of the police and rescue services and to the work, commitment and sheer dedication of people from right across the community — people of different persuasions and none — who simply wanted to find a glorious, lost young boy and bring him home to his mother. Unfortunately, that did not happen, and all of us in this Chamber and across the community are devastated by the news that we heard on Saturday. Our devastation pales in comparison, however, to the suffering that is bring experienced by Noah's mother, Fiona, and her broader family. We can say that our hearts go out to them, but surely that can hardly capture the enormity of the sorrow that we all feel on their behalf.

Noah and his mother were constituents in South Belfast. As I say, the entire community across Belfast and across Northern Ireland is thinking about them now.

William Humphrey said, correctly, that Noah will not be forgotten, and we can be sure of that. For those of us who looked at the beautiful words that were shared by the headmaster of his former school, St Malachy's, that pay testament to his leadership, his love of basketball, his commitment to music and his kindness, it is only more painful and sad to think of the life that we have lost. The motto of St Malachy's is "Gloria ab Intus", which, translated, means, "Glory from within". We can hope that some of the glory that clearly was contained within Noah during his short life remains and consoles Fiona Donohoe and her family in the years ahead.

Mr Butler: I pass on the sympathy, regret and prayers of the Ulster Unionist Party, and on my behalf as a father. There is no doubt, however, that through this tragedy you do not need to be a parent to feel the pain of that family and to feel the pain of the community, which is for the loss of a young life all too soon.

I commend the Members who have spoken so far. What you get is a real sense of loss and of the tragedy that it is. There will be no more important issue that we talk about here today, regardless of the topic.

As Mr O'Toole rightly pointed out, Noah has been painted by his teachers, his friends, his peers and his family as a uniquely talented young man. Mr O'Dowd pointed out his infectious smile. He was a beautiful young man, and I think that every one of us, having looked at the photographs of him, listened to this story and followed the proceedings, will have been brought to tears, or near to tears, at times. When you put yourself in the shoes of Fiona his mother and his wider and extended family, I cannot thi