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Government response to devolution and democracy report published

14 September 2018

Northern Ireland Affairs Committee publishes the Government's response to its report on devolution and democracy in Northern Ireland. An updated version of the Committee's situation report- has also been published.

The Report

The report called on Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to take firmer action to restart talks to restore the Northern Ireland Assembly and overcome barriers on policy development and vital decision making in the region.

The Response

The Committee notes the following aspects of the response, and additional announcements made by the Secretary of State in the past week:

  • The Secretary of State accepted the Committee's recommendation that action must be taken to reconstitute the Policing Board
  • The Secretary of State has agreed with the Committee's recommendation that she must take action on MLA pay
  • The Government has accepted something must be done in relation to decision making in NI in the absence of Ministers. However, there also appears to be no further progress on talks to restore devolution.
  • The Committee welcomes comments in the Secretary of State's statement on Thursday 6 September acknowledging that the sustainability of the Executive needs to be examined. The Committee said the same as politics in Northern Ireland have not been serving the people at all well recently
  • The Committee is disappointed that the Government has not accepted the necessity of taking forward the recommendations of the Hart report.
  • The Committee is disappointed that there will be no specific measures to strengthen Northern Ireland's voice during the Brexit process.

Further action needed

Publishing the response, the Chair of the Committee, Dr Andrew Murrison MP commented:

"We are pleased that the Government has taken some of the recommendations from our report on board and started to think about plugging the democratic deficit in Northern Ireland. Moves to restore the Policing Board are particularly welcome. We also welcome the action taken on MLA pay. We are glad that the Secretary of State has acknowledged that more clarity is needed on the powers of civil servants to take decisions in the light of recent legal challenge. However, whilst we keenly await further detail on this, we are clear that civil servants should not continue to be expected to make determinations that in a functioning democracy fall to Ministers.

There is no evidence in the Government response to our report, nor in the Secretary of State's comments last week, to suggest that talks to restore devolution are imminent. We must move beyond a sticking plaster approach and do more to facilitate sustainable governance in the region with proper accountability and scrutiny mechanisms. When crucial measures, such as those set out in the Hart report, are left to drift we cannot be satisfied with the status quo. The reticence to become involved in any decision making is understandable, but with so much time having passed, with so little visible progress made, we urge the Secretary of State to consider further options and build on the steps she has taken in the past week."

 Further information

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