News story

Consultation on the Northern Ireland Assembly: launch event

This news article was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Secretary of State Owen Paterson today launched a public consultation on measures to improve the operation of the Northern Ireland Assembly.

The consultation seeks views on 4 issues:

  • size of the Assembly
  • length of Assembly terms
  • double jobbing
  • development of an opposition

The Secretary of State said:

I have already signalled my intention to bring forward legislation in Parliament next year to address issues such as providing greater transparency regarding political donations and providing the same security of tenure for the NI Justice Minister enjoyed by all other executive ministers.

This legislation will also provide an opportunity to make other changes which could improve the operation of the Northern Ireland Assembly and I am keen to hear views on the future size of the Assembly, the length of its terms and how, in line with the commitments I made at the general election, we should remove double jobbing once and for all.

A number of parties have suggested that the Assembly’s current term should be extended to 2016. Commenting on the suggestion the Secretary of State said:

Extending the life of an elected body is unusual. We would only feel able to put the suggestion to Parliament if there was a clear demonstration of public benefit and widespread support. We shall listen carefully to views.

The consultation also provides an opportunity for people to put forward their views on how the Assembly might move to a more normal politics of government and opposition in the future, while still maintaining an inclusive Eexecutive in which all sides of the community can be represented.

The Secretary of State said:

Both the Prime Minister and I have made clear our desire to see the institutions evolve over time into a more normal system that incorporates a government and opposition. The consultation will enable us to start a debate over whether this is desirable and how it might be done. As we stated at the election, however, any changes will require the agreement of parties in the Assembly.

The consultation will last for 10 weeks and, in order to meet legislative timetables, all responses must be submitted by the closing date of 23 October 2012.