Northern Ireland. Assess the view that MLAs have been effective in holding the Executive to account since 2007.

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Assess the view that MLAs have been effective in holding the Executive to account since 2007.

One of the primary functions of MLAs is to hold the Executive to account by scrutinising its actions. This is especially important in Northern Ireland because up until 2016 there was a lack of an official opposition in the Assembly and because nearly all parties in the Assembly are represented in government. Many would argue that MLAs have been very successful holding the Executive to account, and that they have become less partisan in the years since 2007. In examining this view, a good place to start is how MLAs can use debates and questions.

The constitutional arrangements in place provide ample opportunities for MLAs to be effective scrutinisers through debates and questions. To fulfil its function to scrutinise the Executive, it is important for the Northern Ireland Assembly to question Ministers about their areas of responsibility. These questions ensure that Ministers explain their work, policy decisions and the actions of their Departments. 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 affected.

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.

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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. Any Member may raise a matter for discussion, giving at least eight days notice to the Speaker. Ordinarily the topic for discussion should fall within an area for which a Minister has responsibility; this will ensure that a Minister will respond to the debate and ...

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