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Assess the extent to which Members of the Northern Ireland Legislative Assembly have been successful in carrying out their functions.

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Introduction

Transfer-Encoding: chunked ´╗┐Assess the extent to which Members of the Legislative Assembly have been successful in carrying out their functions. [26] MLAs have three main duties: scrutiny, legislating and representing. MLAs have come under sustained attack for what many perceive to be their failure to carry out the functions assigned to them by the Good Friday and St Andrews Agreements. Careerism, party loyalty, ignorance and incompetence have all been given as reasons for this failure. In examining whether or not this is a justified belief, a good place to start is looking at how MLAs have been unsuccessful in their scrutiny role. Many feel that they have not been effective in scrutinising the Executive, for a variety of reasons, such as their self-interest. For example, MLAs may fear that if they scrutinise the Executive too much, especially if it is a minister from their own party, then they might lose their position in the party or miss out on the opportunity for promotion. It has been argued that MLAs are too self-interested to properly hold the Executive to account, and the recent expenses scandal would be evidence for this. The dominance of the Assembly by the two leading parties has also been cited as a cause of poor scrutiny. This is especially so with the abuse of the Petition of Concern. ...read more.

Middle

A DUP or SF committee member therefore is highly unlikely to challenge a Minister from their own party. Committees are often engineered to give the Minister 'protection', meaning heavy hitters in the party are brought in to support their Minister. This does not lead to good scrutiny. The alternative view is that this is far too harsh a judgement of MLAs, many of whom have become increasingly active in scrutiny and in participating in the legislative process. A key way that MLA scrutinise the executive is through debates. Moreover, debates are another way that MLAs have been successful in holding the executive to account. Debates take place during plenary meetings in the Assembly Chamber on Mondays and Tuesdays. MLAs debate Bills, particularly Executive bills, at several stages during the law-making process. At the Second Stage they debate the general principles of the Bill and decide if it is a law that the Assembly thinks it should pass. There are no time limits on legislative debates ? all MLAs who wish to speak must be given the opportunity to do so. There are also opportunities to hold the Executive to account through adjournment debates. An Adjournment debate is possible at the end of each plenary sitting and can last for up to one hour. The purpose of an Adjournment debate is to promote debate on a matter without requiring the Assembly to come to a decision. ...read more.

Conclusion

MLAs can represent their constituents by asking questions related to their needs. There are four types of question: Questions for Oral Answer; Questions for Urgent Oral Answer (to Ministers in the Chamber); Written Questions; and Priority Written Questions. Ministers must reply to Questions for Oral Answer during a plenary meeting of the Assembly in the Assembly Chamber. This meeting is known as Question Time. It is a very public way for Ministers to explain what they and their Department are doing. Question Time takes place in the Assembly Chamber between 2.00pm and 3.30pm on Mondays and Tuesdays. For example, in 2015 Jo-Anne Dobson who is the UUP MLA for Upper Bann asked the Minister of Health, Social Services and Public Safety for his assessment of the impact the Minister of Education's decision to withdraw the funding for the Early Years Fund will have on the health and well-being of the children in her constituency. However, some would argue that this is only because they are looking for re-election rather than genuinely caring about their constituents. To conclude, MLAs have generally been successful in carrying out their roles as representatives, legislators and scrutinisers. However, there are still aspects that could be improved, such as the petition of concern. The decision of the UUP and SDLP to go into opposition after the most recent election will change how MLAs are able to carry out these functions and hopefully it will lead to better scrutiny, but only time will tell how effective this will be. ...read more.

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