18/10/2018

Time-Limited Bill Introduced To Restore Devolution

Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley has introduced a new Bill to Parliament which she describes as her plan to restore the devolved government.

The region has been without a functioning executive since January 2017, when relations between the Democratic Unionists and Sinn Fein broke down.

The Northern Ireland (Executive Formation and Exercise of Functions) Bill is aimed at allowing time and space for political parties to agree a return to powersharing government.

Mrs Bradley has described it as her "clear plan to restore devolved government in Northern Ireland" which is at the "heart of the Belfast agreement".

"This Bill gives the best chance of delivering that," she said.

"In the meantime, it is imperative that Northern Ireland departments have clarity so that decisions can be taken in the public interest to maintain delivery of Northern Ireland's public services in the absence of ministers, and the guidance we have published today alongside the Bill will support civil servants in carrying out their duties."

The proposed legislation covers three areas, the first allocating a five-month period in which an Executive may be formed without further primary legislation or an Assembly election.
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The second section aims to give "clarity and certainty" to senior civil servants about taking decisions in the absence of ministers.

This comes following a legal challenge to a decision taken by a Department of Infrastructure official in September 2017 to approve an incinerator in Mallusk.

The High Court ruled that senior civil servant, Peter May, had no power to approve the planning legislation.

Mrs Bradley's Bill comes with accompanying guidance on decision-making that considers whether or not the issue is in the public interest as well as the need to maintain the delivery of public services.

Thirdly, it allows UK Government ministers to make key public appointments in the absence of Stormont officials.

A time-limit covers the Bill, which she agreed with political parties would be March 26 2019. It can be extended by a further five months to August if there is a genuine prospect of agreement.

The recent proposal will be debated in the House of Commons on October 24 and is planned to become law in November.

Mrs Bradley added: "Once the legislation is passed by Parliament, it will help the political parties to use the next few months to get around the table and come to an agreement, so that the people of Northern Ireland have locally-elected government to take important decisions on their behalf."



(JG)

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