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Devolution in Northern Ireland, 1998-2018

Published Friday, November 16, 2018

Devolution in Northern Ireland, 1998-2018

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There has been neither an Executive nor a fully-functioning Assembly in Northern Ireland since January 2017. The Assembly elected on 2 March 2017 has not been formally suspended, as in the past, and Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) have continued to carry out a range of activities, most significantly constituency work. Nor has Westminster introduced “Direct Rule”.

The devolution settlement in Northern Ireland is, as the academic Colin Knox put it in 2010, “inextricably linked to the divisive issues which precipitated its inception and characterise its operation in practice”. Furthermore, as others have written, in Northern Ireland “more than any other part of the United Kingdom, devolution remains a process”.

That process began in 1921, when executive and legislative power was first devolved to the newly-created Northern Ireland, making it the only part of the UK to have experience of devolution prior to 1998. At that point, the Scotland Act 1998, Government of Wales Act 1998 and Northern Ireland Act 1998 transformed the UK’s territorial constitution.

This briefing paper sets out the devolution settlement in Northern Ireland as it stands (and when fully functioning), before revisiting the Belfast Agreement of 1998 and charting subsequent legislation and political events over the past two decades.

Commons Briefing papers CBP-8439

Author: David Torrance

Topics: Constitution, Devolution, Northern Ireland Assembly

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