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

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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. Some say it is being used as a veto by the top parties to prevent effective scrutiny and debate. All legislation must be passed by OFMdFM and this can lead to legislation getting killed before it is initiated if either of the ‘big two’ do not like it. MLAs have the possibility of raising a Petition of Concern if they believe there is an issue which is a serious concern to their community. To enact this they have to achieve the support of 30 MLAs. In such cases, a vote on proposed legislation will only pass if a weighted majority (60%) of members voting, with at least 40% of each community present and voting.  It gives each community a veto to prevent decisions or legislation being made which can affect them.  It is supposed to be used if legislation is a particular threat to a certain community, but the DUP have used the Petition of Concern to block an investigation into the alleged misconduct of one of their own and to block legislation that would prohibit MLAs from “double jobbing”. The DUP is the only party with enough votes to reject a proposal outright as it has over 30 Assembly seats (38 MLAs).  This abuse of the petition of concern prevents MLAs from effectively holding the executive to account.  

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The MLA’s work in legislating has also been limited and unsatisfactory. MLAs have the power to initiate legislation but have been inactive either individually or as members of committees. It is also worth noting the overall lack of legislation, many argue that power sharing discourages the legislative process. During the full assembly 2007-2011 only 69 bills were passed. This compares to the House of Commons passing 50 bills in one year. The numbers kept falling – only 11 bills between 2011 and 2013. The previous speaker William Hay warned party chiefs about the “death of legislation.” There were only 3 ...

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