Devolution has been restored in Northern Ireland, 3 years after it broke down.

On 11 January 2020, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson gave a statement, welcoming the ‘momentous day’ and giving credit to Northern Ireland Secretary of State Julian Smith and the Irish Government.

It matters for the population of Northern Ireland who had not had a functioning voice for over 3 years.  This impacted their everyday lives – police, schools, roads, hospitals etc.

It matters because Northern Ireland has significant devolved powers that affect the payroll and HR professions.  Things such as employment law and justice.  Employment law has changed in Great Britain but no similar measures have been taken in Northern Ireland.  So, for example:

  • We have hours on payslips being a requirement in Great Britain but not Northern Ireland
  • We have, potentially, a new statutory payment in 2020 in Great Britain but not Northern Ireland
  • We have changes to the holiday pay reference period in Great Britain but not Northern Ireland

Of course, with devolution, there is no guarantee that Northern Ireland would have followed suit anyway.  Although, generally there is an announcement one way or the other.

Devolution matters.

It is essential that devolution was restored by 13 January 2020.  By saying this, it is necessary to look at a little bit of history about the breakdown and the legislative means that the UK Government have used to postpone its restoration.

Ian’s Brief History

On 09 January 2017, Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness resigned as Deputy First Minister.  Sinn Féin announced that they would not be replacing him which meant that First Minister Arlene Foster of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) lost the role of First Minister.  The reason for this is that the Northern Ireland Executive operates on a power-sharing basis.

Then-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, James Brokenshire called for fresh elections that were held on 02 March 2017.  The make-up of the elected Assembly (individuals known as MLAs) changed greatly, with Sinn Féin narrowing the gap on the DUP with 27 and 28 MLAs respectively.  Repeated, talks broke down between these two parties.

Talking seemed to achieve little, therefore, further elections in Northern Ireland seemed the only answer to solve the impasse.  In fact, it was the only legal option available until the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation and Exercise of Functions) Act 2018 came along.  This Act amended the Northern Ireland Act 1998 that mandated a fresh elections be called.  It said that no further elections were necessary if the Assembly met (and an Executive was formed) by 26 March 2019.  This did not happen.  On 21 March 2019, the then-Secretary of State Karen Bradley announced that she would use the ‘limited power’ in the Act and pass Regulations to replace the 26 March 2019 date with 25 August 2019 (via the Northern Ireland (Extension of Period for Executive Formation) Regulations 2019).

Kicking the can further down the road, the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act 2019 replaced 25 August 2019 with 21 October 2019.  The current Secretary of State Julian Smith used the powers to extend this date to 13 January 2020 via the Northern Ireland (Extension of Period for Executive Formation) (No. 2) Regulations 2019.

Thankfully, a deal agreed last week secured the full restoration of the institutions of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement and there is no need for fresh Assembly elections (or another piece of legislation to kick this down the road even further).  All parties have ‘committed to delivering a range of reforms including immediate resolution of the industrial strike action among health workers’.

Executive Formation

Prime Minister Boris Johnson travelled to Belfast on Monday to meet the newly appointed Executive.  Discussions focused on the Executive’s priorities to take forward critical reforms to public services.  Which leads me to look at the make-up of the Executive, focusing on each department and its responsibilities.  I am hoping that this will be of benefit to professionals and commercial training providers providing services in this part of the United Kingdom:

 The Executive

The Northern Ireland Executive is made up of the First Minister, deputy First Minister and two Junior Ministers who are part of the same executive department:

  • Arlene Foster – First Minister from the DUP
  • Michelle O’Neill – Deputy First Minister from Sinn Féin
  • Gordon Lyons – Junior Minister from the DUP
  • Declan Kearney – Junior Minister from Sinn Féin

The work of the Executive includes the Programme for Government, Budget and Economic Strategy and the Executive Action Plan on Tackling Paramilitary Activity, Criminality and Organised Crime.

The Departments

Then, there are eight departments with departmental ministers.  The text below is taken from the departments’ own Website and I have highlighted the ones that I look out for.  The summary from each department gives an overview of the powers that are devolved to Northern Ireland:

Department for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA)
  • Minister – Edwin Poots (DUP)

The Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) has responsibility for food, farming, environmental, fisheries, forestry and sustainability policy and the development of the rural sector in Northern Ireland.

The Department assists the sustainable development of the agri-food, environmental, fishing and forestry sectors of the Northern Ireland economy, having regard for the needs of the consumers, the protection of human, animal and plant health, the welfare of animals and the conservation and enhancement of the environment. It is important for people with brain pressure or traumatic brain injury to read instruction at . If you have a head injury or increased pressure on your brain Tramadol may impair breathing, increase pressure in the cerebrospinal fluid, lead to a decrease in the pupils of your eyes, cause changes in behavior.

Department for the Communities (DfC)
  • Minister – Deirdre Hargey (Sinn Féin)

The Department has strategic responsibility for equality, anti-poverty, sports, arts and culture, languages, finding employment, historic environment, housing, regeneration, benefits and pensions, community and voluntary sector development, social legislation and child support.

Department for the Economy (DfE)
  • Minister – Diane Dodds (DUP)

The Department for the Economy (DfE) was established in May 2016.  Its responsibilities include:

  • Wider economic policy, including specific areas like Energy, Tourism and Telecoms
  • The operation of a range of employment and skills programmes
  • Oversight and funding of the further and higher education sectors
  • Various aspects of employment law
  • The management and operation of various EU funding programmes (and EU Exit Preparation and Transition)
Department for Education (DE)
  • Minister – Peter Weir (DUP)

The Department’s primary statutory duty is to promote the education of the people of Northern Ireland and to ensure the effective implementation of education policy. The Department’s main statutory areas of responsibility are 0-4 provision, primary, post-primary and special education and the youth service.

Department of Finance (DoF)
  • Minister – Conor Murphy (Sinn Féin)

 The Department of Finance (DoF) aims to help the Northern Ireland Executive secure the most appropriate and effective use of resources and services for the benefit of the community.

In pursuing this aim, the key objective of the Department is to deliver quality, cost effective and efficient public services and administration in the department’s areas of executive responsibility.

Department of Health (DoH)
  • Minister – Robin Swann (Ulster Unionist Party (UUP))

 It is the Department’s mission to improve the health and social well-being of the people of Northern Ireland. It endeavours to do so by:

  • Leading a major programme of cross-government action to improve the health and well-being of the population and reduce health inequalities.
  • This includes interventions involving health promotion and education to encourage people to adopt activities, behaviours and attitudes which lead to better health and well-being.
  • The aim is a population which is much more engaged in ensuring its own health and well-being
  • Ensuring the provision of appropriate health and social care services, both in clinical settings such as hospitals and GPs’ surgeries, and in the community through nursing, social work and other professional services
Department for Infrastructure (DfI)
  • Minister – Nichola Mallon (Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP))

 The main responsibilities of the Department are:

  • Regional strategic planning and development policy
  • Transport strategy and sustainable transport policy
  • Public transport policy and performance
  • Road safety and vehicle regulation policy, including strategies to reduce the number of people killed or seriously injured on our roads
  • Driver and operator licensing and driver and vehicle testing
  • Provision and maintenance of all public roads
  • Certain policy and support work for air and sea ports
  • River and sea defence maintenance and the construction of flood alleviation schemes
  • Provision of flood maps and risk information
  • Policy on water and sewerage services and management of the Department’s shareholder interest in Northern Ireland Water
Department of Justice (DOJ)
  • Minister – Naomi Long (Alliance Party)

The Department of Justice was established in April 2010, following the devolution of justice powers to the Northern Ireland Assembly.  The Department has a range of powers relating to devolved policing and justice functions, set out in the Northern Ireland Act 1998 (Devolution of Policing and Justice Functions) Order 2010.

It is responsible for the resourcing, legislative and policy framework of the justice system.


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