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Assembly, Devolution vs Direct Rule, Northern Ireland

How effective are Assembly committees?

Ok, we discussed how to approach this essay in class.

Now here are a few pointers to remind you of what to include:

  1. Place the essay in a broad context
    1. 108 member assembly
    2. Executive led’ and dominated by ‘party animals’ – 105 MLAs in governing parties!!!
    3. Legacy of sectarian division
    4. The four types of committees –

i. Statutory

ii. Standing

iii. Ad hoc

iv. Joint

    1. The role committees should perform?

i. Legislative scrutiny

ii. Departmental scrutiny

iii. Policy advice & initiation

  1. Performance? What is your barometer? Our committee system kicks Direct Rule scrutiny into touch, but it still has problems. It is not perfect by any means – cross ref 1b&c above. Add to this the fact that the workload is immense and many committee members sit on 2 or 3, with some on 4 committees!
  2. Yes they have successfully fulfilled the power-sharing ideal:
    1. chairs nominated via d’hondt
    2. membership by d’hondt
    3. chair & vice chair divided unionist/nationalist etc
  3. Use the examples I have given you in the handout on Committees to identify performance indicators:
    1. Examples of inquiries and the impact.
    2. Examples of the impact of committees on legislation

i. Primary

ii. Secondary/delegated/subordinate

    1. Examples of financial/budget scrutiny and the impact
    2. Examples of policy development & scrutiny of government/executive departments and the impact.
  1. Don’t over-cook the essay with a list of examples. Tell the reader how the committee has performed in the selected areas in point 2 and then select one good example (for each) to support that argument. If there are numerous examples then tell the reader that this is simply one of many examples – but no reader wants to read a long list of examples…It is your argument that is most important.
  2. Clearly the examples you provide will suggest that committees are performing well and this is a reasonable assumption. But how well?
  3. Your essay needs balance:
    1. Did the executive change its stance over any major issues?
    2. The executive is still dominated by a DUP/SF stranglehold which leads to complaints from the other parties & as a consequence of D’hondt these two parties hold most committee chairs too!
    3. Can such ‘party animals’ really hold their ‘own’ minister to account?
    4. There was real evidence of personal vendettas as the DUP committee members viciously attacked the then UUP Health Minister Michael McGimpsey.
    5. There is no evidence of committee members voting against their party line in committee or in the chamber!
    6. Thus in a country with no formal opposition committees have proven to be absolutely no substitute.
    7. The committee performance in terms of initiating legislation is woeful – one piece of legislation (on something all parties agreed on anyway – the appointment of a Commissioner for Standards).
  4. Examples of standing committee work cannot overlook the performance of the PAC and its criticisms of NI Water after the ‘big freeze’ last winter for example. The chief executive of NI Water resigned after two PAC reports with over 80 proposals. NI Water have since improved:


Nonetheless – bring in some critical evaluation about cause & effect here:

  • Did the committee report do the damage or was it the public dissatisfaction?
  • Was it the media coverage and massive criticisms?
  • Was it pressure from the executive (particularly Dept Regional Development) and the combined political parties?
  1. Conclude your answer with an evaluation of performance overall. Don’t introduce any new arguments at this stage.

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