With the elections only days away, people may be wondering how the Northern Ireland assembly will change after last year’s announcement to reduce MLA’s and Stormont departments, and how it will affect the party they’re voting for.
However, for this year’s elections, it won’t affect any individual party. Northern Ireland’s First Minister, Peter Robinson, announced in March 2015 that Stormont will be reducing the number of government departments from 12 to nine.
The change, known as the Departments Bill, was introduced on 30th November 2015, proposing the changes to the Northern Ireland assembly. The parties agreed to name the departments as follows;
Department for Communities
Department for the Economy
Department of Education
Department of Health
Department for Infrastructure
Department of Justice
Department of Finance
Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs.
Finally, the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First minister would now be known as The Executive Office.
These departmental reductions are said to be brought in to result in more “efficient administration” resulting in better value for money, as well as some “consequential cost savings” according to the NI assembly.
Mr Robinson said no functions would be rid of and “no policies terminated.”
He went on to say, “Staff will follow functions, and there may be a certain amount of early disruption,” he added.
“But once the changes have been effected, there will undoubtedly be greater efficiency.”
He said the executive had also agreed the drafting of a Departments Bill and a Transfer of Functions Order to provide a legislative basis for the changes.
“We aim to introduce the Departments Bill to the assembly after the Easter Recess,” he added.
“A more detailed Transfer of Functions Order will be available for assembly scrutiny later this year.
“There will be extensive opportunity for the assembly to consider and debate these changes.”
It was also announced that the assembly will reduce the number of MLAs by 2021. The deadline was set by the Stormont House Agreement which states the number of MLAs will be reduced from 108 to 90, meaning five MLAs will be elected for each constituency rather than the six that currently are.
These changes will be implemented in time for the 2021 elections, increasing the pressure on the parties that currently represent each constituency.
The Green Party’s Stephen Agnew, who is one of the MLAs elected for North Down, said, “It will make the election that bit more competitive of course. It’s a slight concern for every party in the constituencies throughout Northern Ireland, not just us.
“I have full confidence we will get voted back in, though, in the 2021 elections. Our voters will get behind us and we’re predicting we will get our highest number of votes in this election. So we remain positive.”
He added, “It is quite a long way away, but of course we need to start preparing for the change as the election will be that bit more competitive (in 2021).”
So any confusion caused by our ever-complicated government, don’t fret. This was your summary of what is going on in Stormont just in time for the elections on May 6th.