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Devolved Government in Northern Ireland

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Devolved Government in Northern Ireland
Secretary Assembly Executive Departments Committees North- South British- Irish Conference Civic Forum

image of cover of information booklet Devolved Government following the Good Friday Agreement
The House of Lords and the House of Commons at Westminster approved a devolution order under the Northern Ireland Act 1998 on Tuesday 30 November 1999. The order allowed for the transfer of certain powers from Westminster to the Northern Ireland Assembly at Stormont, and the associated new institutions of government. The arrangements for devolved government were set out in the Good Friday Agreement that had been agreed as a result of the peace process. Powers were devolved to the new institutions at midnight Wednesday 1 December 1999.

Suspensions resulting in the reimposition of Direct Rule:
Following another crisis in the peace process the institutions of the devolved government were suspended by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (then Peter Mandelson) at midnight Friday 11 February 2000. The institutions were reinstated at midnight on Monday 29 May 2000. There was a 'tactical' suspension of the institutions for 24 hours beginning at midnight on Friday 10 August 2001 - John Reid, then Secretary of State, signed the order for suspension. There was another tactical suspension for 24 hours beginning at midnight on Friday 21 September 2001 - again John Reid signed the order. A fourth, indefinite, period of suspension began at midnight on Monday 14 October 2002 (devolved government was not re-introduced until 8 May 2007). On Tuesday 15 October 2002 John Reid announced the expanded roles of Northern Ireland Office ministers. Although it was suspended, there were elections to the Assembly on 26 November 2003. Following a government reshuffle on 5 April 2004 Paul Murphy, then Secretary of State, announced the new ministerial portfolios at the Northern Ireland Office (NIO).

The 'Virtual Assembley':
Following the Northern Ireland Act 2006 the British government re-called the Assembly on 15 May 2006 for an intial period of 6 weeks. The same Assembly was also secheduled to sit for a period of 12 weeks from 4 September 2006 to 24 November 2006. This Assembly has been called Hain's 'Virtual Assembly' because it could debate but had no leglislative powers. Peter Hain, then Secretary of Sate for Northern Ireland, also established on 26 May 2006 the Committee for the Preparation for Government {external_link}. The deadline for the restoration of the full Assembly was set as 24 November 2006 however this deadline passed without agreement between the political parties.

Restoration of Devolved Government in 2007
An Assembly election was held on 7 March 2007. A new deadline to devolve power and run d'Hondt on 26 March 2007 also passed without restoration of devolved government because the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) wanted a six week delay. Nevertheless, on the 26 March 2007 the leaders of the DUP and Sinn Féin issued statements indicating an agreement between the two parties to enter into a power-sharing government. Devolved government was restored to Northern Ireland on Tuesday 8 May 2007. Devolved Assemblies were also returned following elections on 5 May 2011 and 5 May 2016.

See also:
For background information on government in Northern Ireland see: 'Systems of Government' a chapter from 'Northern Ireland: A Political Directory, 1968-99' by Sidney Elliott and W.D. Flackes (1999)

Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

Under the legislation certain powers were not devolved from Westminster to devolved governments at Stormont and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland held responsibility for these matters. Initially the Secretary of State retained control over: policing, security policy, prisons, criminal justice, international relations, taxation, national insurance, regulation of financial services, and the regulation of telecommunications and broadcasting. A latter agreement in 2010 resulted in the powers related to security and justice being returned to Stormont control.

Northern Ireland Assembly

The 108 member Northern Ireland Assembly meets in Parliament Buildings at Stormont, Belfast. The Assembly has the power to make laws and take decisions on all matters that have been devolved from Westminster.

Executive Committee

The Northern Ireland Assembly elects an Executive Committee which is the equivalent of the British Cabinet. The Executive is made up of the First Minister, the Deputy First Minister, two junior ministers and the Ministers who head the government departments.

Government Departments

Initially ten government Departments were established to administer government responsibility for those matters that were devolved from Westminster. The Departments manage budgets and administer policy for social and economic matters.

Statutory Committees

For each of the Departments there is a matching Statutory Committee. The role of the Committee is to scrutinise the administration of the Department and the relevant Minister, to advise on policy development, and to help in the initiation of legislation.

North-South Ministerial Council

The North-South Ministerial Council comprises Ministers from the Northern Ireland Assembly and the Irish Government. The aim of the Council is to develop consultation, co-operation, and implementation, on matters of mutual interest to the two states. Decisions on policy are implemented through the North-South Implementation Bodies.

North-South Implementation Bodies

Initially there were six North-South Implementation Bodies established as part of the Good Friday Agreement to deal with policy matters decided by the North-South Ministerial Council.

British-Irish Council

The British-Irish Council is a counterpart of the North-South Ministerial Council. The British-Irish Council is made up of representatives of: the British government, the Irish government, the Northern Ireland Assembly, the Welsh Assembly, the Scottish Parliament, and the institutions of the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands. The aim of the Council is to promote the development of harmonious relationships between the various governments, assemblies, and institutions.

British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference

The British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference was designed to replace the Anglo-Irish Intergovernmental Council and the Intergovernmental Conference both of which were established as a result of the Anglo-Irish Agreement in November 1985.

Civic Forum

The Civic Forum (2000-2002) was comprised of 60 members representing all walks of life in Northern Ireland. The Forum acted as a consultative mechanism on social, economic and cultural matters.


CAIN contains information and source material on the conflict and politics in Northern Ireland.
CAIN is based within Ulster University.

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