Northern Ireland has been without a devolved administration since January 2017. 

The UK Government has made changes to legislation affecting Great Britain (e.g. Statutory Parental Bereavement Leave and Pay) which, in ‘normal’ circumstances may have been replicated in Northern Ireland.

Repairing Devolution

Failure of the two main parties in Northern Ireland (Sinn Féin and the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP)) to form a power-sharing Executive should have led to another Northern Ireland Assembly election following that of 02 March 2017.  That is according to the Northern Ireland Act 1998.

However, the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation and Exercise of Functions) Act 2018 allowed for an election to be postponed, as long as the elected Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) met and formed and Executive by 26 March 2019.

The Northern Ireland (Extension of Period for Executive Formation) Regulations 2019 provided for this extended this date to 25 August 2019.  The Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act 2019 replaced 25 August 2019 with 21 October 2019.

Controversially for Northern Ireland, the 2019 Act was amended during its Westminster passage to allow for more than the original intentions:

  • Legalising same-sex marriage and opposite sex civil partnerships by 13 January 2020,
  • Implementing paragraphs 85 and 86 of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women CEDAW report (to do with legalising abortions and reproductive health rights and services) by 31 March 2020, and
  • Introducing a ‘victims pension’ to individuals living with permanent, serious disablement caused by injury in a Troubles-related incident by no later than end May 2020

However, these would not have come into effect if an Executive was formed and MLAs met by midnight 21 October 2019.

This did not happen.

‘Lagging behind Great Britain’?

Victims Payments / pension is unique to Northern Ireland.

Whilst this is not a political statement, the fact is that Northern Ireland has had imposed two issues that have proved controversial for them for many years.  Yet, it is incorrect to say that Northern Ireland was ‘behind’ Great Britain when it came to allowing same-sex marriage and allowing access to abortion services.  It is correct to say that these matters were normally within the devolved (transferred) competence of the Northern Ireland Assembly – i.e. they were not ‘Excepted’ or ‘Reserved’ matters for the UK Parliament as per the Northern Ireland Act 1998.

Therefore, the 2019 Act containing these controversial issues have been passed directly as a result of the absence of the Executive and a sitting Assembly.

What it obvious, therefore, is having devolution in the UK is one thing but more important is having a body in place, i.e. the Executive and Assembly to make it work in practice.

And the Story Continues

The Northern Ireland Office has issued guidance to healthcare professionals in Northern Ireland regarding abortions and terminations between 22 October 2019 and 31 March 2020.

Whilst I appreciate that there are other things going on, the absence of devolution in Northern Ireland is having profound effects imposed on them by Westminster.  This is not what devolution is about at all. On the contrary, I experienced only the joy of improvements every day! I did not have any serious side effects from Accutane. Sometimes the situation improved, sometimes worsened, but the overall picture did not change much.  It is supposed to be about the devolved administrations taking actions that affect the people in that nation as legislation allows (in this case the Northern Ireland Act 1998).

However, Assembly elections are probably not going to be called, as The Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act 2019 makes provision for the 21 October 2019 to be extended to 13 January 2020, if provided for by secondary legislation (Regulations from Westminster).

It would seem that the restoration of devolution is a ball being kicked further and further down the road with little sign that progress is being made – progress in the form of a working Executive and Assembly.  I fear that the longer that this continues, the more diverse the Great British and Northern Irish legislation will become. Or, Northern Ireland will have measures imposed on them by Westminster, measures which are devolved.

I go back to what I said at the start and fail to see how this is anything other than bad for the concept of devolution, Northern Ireland itself and its citizens.

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