Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.

Donate to our crowdfunder

Assembly Standing Orders

Part of the debate – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 12:15 pm on 9th March 1999.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mark Durkan Mark Durkan Social Democratic and Labour Party 12:15 pm, 9th March 1999

If the Member would allow me to continue, I have been generous in giving way so far.

That is one area. The allegation has been made that we have been trying to keep the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister immune from any check, any scrutiny, any accountability. I am simply pointing out that that is not so.

Secondly, with regard to functions remitted to the First and Deputy First Ministers, most of what they do relates to the particular operating needs of the Executive Committee and those requirements that arise specifically from the Committee. Any other function will be discharged on the basis of approval of the House. That should be remembered and recognised.

Thirdly, an argument has been made that all sorts of functions have been "hoovered" to the Centre. However, when one looks at those functions, they are seen to be the normal functions of the Centre. If one tries to identify the functions that have come from existing Government Departments, one finds that only a handful are currently remitted to specific Departments. The case has been made that all sorts of things were brought in, but one would be very hard pushed to find more than a handful of functions that have been taken from particular Departments into the Centre.

One is the issue of equality, which is currently discharged by the Department of Economic Development. We have already seen legislation passed elsewhere that gives much wider terms of reference and application than could ever have been covered by that Department. The idea of equality now encompasses more than employment and the provision of goods and services. It would have been wrong in those circumstances to have allowed the issue of equality to remain with the Department of Economic Development or its equivalent.

Similarly, community relations came under the Department of Education where it did not fare too well in the eyes of many people working in that area. That Department has now been broken up and reorganised, and no strong argument can be made for that function remaining there. It should move to the Centre.

Public appointments policy is another area which properly lies in the Centre and, indeed, was there previously. Most of the functions that lie with the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister relate to the requirements of the Centre and of the Executive Committee. We argued in the negotiations for and stand by the concept of the Executive Committee as an inclusive exercise. We want it to be inclusive on a proportional basis. We want the Executive Committee to work as a committee. We want it to be a live and significant entity. That was the difference between many of the parties during the talks.

We argued very strongly for a significant Executive Committee. The circumstances of the negotiations required that part of the compromise was that particular functions and responsibilities for the co-ordination and operation of the Executive Committee be discharged by the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister. Thus in that sense they are accountable to the Executive Committee and through the Committee to this House.

If we were to say that there has to be a specific scrutiny committee for the functions of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister, that would be grand. That would make it very easy for those parties who say "We will take ministerial office but not sit on the Executive Committee. We will send our people to the scrutiny committee to try to kick the traces through every matter that is before or is coming before the Executive Committee."