Assembly and Executive Review Committee Legacy Report 2017 - 2022

Stocktake (Assembly) – Assembly and Executive Review Committee – September 2021


Assembly BodyActivityNotes

Assembly Education Service

While there has been some disruption throughout the pandemic, the Assembly Education Service has engaged with young women through its inward and outreach programmes since 2015. The representation of female MLAs is highlighted through presentations and young people frequently have had the opportunity to meet and discuss related issues with female MLAs. The ‘Let’s Talk’ panel events held across NI were a prime example.


The Education Service worked with Politics Plus and the Department for Communities to mark 100 years since the Representation of the People Act (1918) when women first gained the right to vote. Over 100 young people participated in 1918-themed workshops, which included a contribution by the Chief Electoral Officer, Virginia McVea.


The Education Service also facilitated a shared education project entitled ‘Politics in Action’. It involved young people (19 girls and 1 boy), who chose to investigate issues around media stereotypes,

mental health among young women, LGBT rights, abortion and breast feeding in public. They presented their findings to an audience of MLAs in April 2018.

Relevant recommendation - AERC Report on Women in Politics:


Recommendation 11

The Committee recommended that the Assembly should continue to engage with young women and school girls to discover why they are not engaging in political life and what positive initiatives could be brought forward as a result.

Women’s Caucus/Speaker

To mark International Women’s Day in March 2019 and 2020, the Speaker hosted a “Young Women’s Parliament” with approximately 90 young women aged 16-18 meeting with women MLAs as part of the Women’s Caucus. This involved engaging in discussions on the personal experiences of the women MLAs on their pathways into politics, and in the participants having the opportunity to raise issues of relevance to them during an afternoon of debate in the Assembly Chamber.


Assembly Commission

The Assembly Commission has established a Youth Assembly with the first Plenary on 2 July 2021. The enhanced random selection used to appoint members of the Youth Assembly was designed to ensure that the Youth Assembly is fully representative of the demographic make-up of the eligible age group including gender.


Separate to the work carried out by the Assembly Commission itself, the Commission continued to support Politics Plus. Politics Plus arranged a Young Female Leaders Academy which took place in October 2015. The Academy promoted engagement with all political parties and raised awareness of their contribution to inform policy and opportunities to work in politics. The Academy event included capacity-building workshops.




Assembly BodyActivityNotes

Assembly Commission/ Women’s Caucus

Speaker McLaughlin established a working group on a gender sensitive parliament in February 2016. Following the 2016 election, consideration was being given as to whether the working group was as effective a measure as was imagined given that it would fall to a range of other bodies to consider implementing any suggestions the working group would make. The Assembly was not sitting for three years following this but the Women’s Caucus has led on identifying areas for change and building consensus on them with other Assembly bodies.


The establishment of the Assembly Women's Caucus, supported by the Commission, has been a helpful development to highlight specific areas where further change could be considered and to build political consensus to assist relevant bodies to take individual issues forward.


Membership of the Caucus consists of all women MLAs. The Caucus is managed by an all-party Steering Group, consisting of 15 Members and the Clerk to the Assembly, and includes a Chairperson and Deputy Chairperson.


In November 2020, the Women's Caucus agreed a Strategic Framework covering the period November 2020 to February 2022. This framework lays out the vision of the Caucus as 'a Northern Ireland where women are equally represented in politics' and the aim 'to address the under representation of women in politics in Northern Ireland'.

On International Women's Day 2021, the Women's Caucus moved its first motion in plenary, calling on the Assembly to support its action plan, which lays out a road map for how to establish a Gender Sensitive Northern Ireland Assembly. The motion received support from all sides of the House. The Action Plan calls for the establishment of a Gender Sensitive Assembly: one which has processes that facilitate the participation of both women and men; that has actions that promote equality and participation; that has an environment that is accessible to both women and men; and that has gender sensitive political parties and politicians.


The Women’s Caucus is taking forward engagement with Members on a gender survey/action plan. The Caucus is currently undertaking work to implement actions contained in the action plan. This includes work related to:

  • Introducing a formal mechanism by which the Caucus can report to the Assembly on its work on a regular basis and raise issues of concern, with the Speaker’s Office and the Committee on Procedures.
  • Engaging with current efforts and processes relating the renewal of a Gender Strategy for Northern Ireland, with the Minister for Communities and the Department for Communities Gender Policy Unit.
  • Working with the Assembly Communication Office to ensure gender-specific media representation for women MLAs and to develop targeted engagement with the media, civil society, schools and other relevant stakeholders to profile the work of women MLAs.
  • Undertaking a stock-take of training related to gender equality awareness in political representation as part of Member Development.
  • Establish an image of women MLAs to be permanently displayed in a prominent position within Stormont Parliament Buildings.
  • Engaging with processes related to reporting unacceptable behaviour and language in the Assembly Chamber.
  • Engaging with the political parties on gender mainstreaming within party structures and policies.
  • Engaging with the Oireachtas Women’s Caucus on an event on women’s political participation.
  • Developing a research project into gender mainstreaming in politics and women’s political participation, which prioritises engaging with marginalised groups. Project planning is under way and the project will be delivered between Autumn 2021 and Spring 2022. It will form the structure of a research report informed by several work streams including:
    • A discussion series with experts from civil society, statutory bodies, parliamentary counterparts, governmental counterparts, academia and international organisations.
    • A public engagement event with women who want to get involved in politics or who are interested in women’s political participation.
    • A call for evidence from the public and key decision makers and stakeholders within the political arena.


The Assembly Commission provides staffing to support the Women’s Caucus.

Relevant recommendations - AERC Report on Women in Politics:


Recommendation 12: The Committee recommended that the Assembly should consider adopting measures from local, national, and international best practice to create a gender sensitive Northern Ireland Assembly.


Recommendation 15: The Committee recommended that the Assembly should establish a working group on a gender sensitive parliament. The working group should have equal membership of male and female MLAs.


Recommendation 16: The Committee recommended that the Assembly should conduct a gender survey across all members to identify the key barriers and challenges and, based on the feedback received, develop a specific gender action plan with specific measures to help members balance family life with their political career.


Recommendation 23: The Committee recommended that the Assembly should facilitate the creation of a woman’s parliamentary caucus.



Assembly BodyActivityNotes

Assembly Speaker/Commission

While there have been different Speakers and Commissions appointed since the AERC report, strong support has been given for initiatives to encourage increasing female participation at the Assembly including:


January 2015 Speaker McLaughlin invited Dame Rosemary Butler, Presiding Officer for the National Assembly of Wales to Parliament Buildings to speak about her work to support women in public life to mark International Women’s Day.


March 2015 Speaker McLaughlin wrote to the Committee on Procedures asking them to consider provisions to ensure that there was always female representation within the Speaker and Deputy Speakers.


September 2016 Speaker McLaughlin wrote to all parties encouraging them to be mindful of the need to increase female representation at the Assembly in their selection processes.


January 2016 The Speaker and the Assembly Commission supported the creation of a Women’s Caucus at the Assembly.


March 2016 Speaker McLaughlin proposed and led “Assembly Women’s Week” to place a focus on female representation ahead of the 2016 election.


March 2016 Speaker McLaughlin hosted the launch of the Women’s Caucus.


May 2016 Speaker McLaughlin released a statement welcoming the increase in female MLAs returned at the Assembly election.


March 2018 Speaker Newton hosted a performance of the play “Shrieking Sisters” in Parliament Buildings. The play told the story of Ulster and Irish suffragettes in the early years of the 20th century, was performed in Parliament Buildings. Following the play, a networking reception was held at which invited guests discussed issues around women’s equality.


August 2018 Speaker Newton agreed to allow the Great Hall to be used for an exhibition on the suffrage movement.


March 2019 – Speaker Newton presided over a “Young Women’s Parliament” with approximately 90 young women aged 16-18 engaging with women MLAs and taking part in an afternoon of debate in the Assembly Chamber.


March 2020 - Speaker Maskey hosted a further “Young Women’s Parliament” with a debate in the Assembly Chamber.


March 2021 – While the COVID-19 pandemic prevent a physical event being held, Speaker Maskey initiated a social media campaign on the Assembly website and social media channels to highlight female role models. Those participating, including politicians, sports stars and other influential figures, recorded short videos to highlight the challenges they had overcome as women to achieve in their respective professions.


In addition, the Assembly Commission has included a high level objective in its Corporate Plan 2019-23 of “Building connections with target groups including for example, support for greater female participation and the delivery of a Youth Assembly.” This objective includes an outcome of increasing female participation in the work of the Assembly. Officials are currently undertaking scoping work on behalf of the Commission and engaging with the Women’s Caucus in relation to potential measures that could be taken forward. This includes work in relation to developing guidance for committees on ensuring witness diversity.


Efforts to introduce motions from the Women’s Caucus have been supported by the Speaker through advice and engagement on best approaches to bring forward motions in the future and through support in the scheduling of motions.


In 2015, the Assembly Commission agreed that Parliament Buildings should become an accredited member of the Public Health Agency’s “Breast feeding Welcome Here” scheme.


Since 2014, the Assembly Commission has externally lit Parliament Buildings to mark International Women’s Day.

Relevant recommendation - AERC Report on Women in Politics:


Recommendation 13: The Committee recommended that all initiatives designed to increase and support women in the Northern Ireland Assembly should be given strong support from the Assembly leadership.

Assembly Engagement Unit

The Engagement Unit runs events specifically targeting women's groups to inform them about how they can get involved with the Assembly, the political process and political life. Events of note included:


The 10th Annual Conference of the Northern Ireland Rural


Women’s Network, October 2016: Women heard first hand from the Chair of the Committee for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (AERA), on the role of the Committee and how they can engage with the committee on issues that matter to them.


Women and Children Takeover Parliament Buildings, March 2018: An event to engage with women and children and raise awareness of the Assembly and how they can connect with it. The event included entertainment/childcare for children, an interactive presentation for parents and a family-friendly tour. Almost 80 attended including groups from the Shankill, Falls and Windsor Women’s Centres.


Assembly Community Connect: Women’s groups regularly participated in this programme, with 61% of attendees being women.


Reel Politics: The Assembly, in conjunction with Belfast City Council. worked with Cinemagic on a film project entitled “Reel Politics”. Twenty young women created three original short films about the benefits of young women in politics. The films were showcased at an event to mark International Women’s Day 2015.




Assembly Body



Committee on Procedures

The Committee on Procedures is currently undertaking a Review of Standing Order 27(11) which states: If any member is present within the precincts of the Assembly and is disabled by infirmity from passing through a lobby, his or her name may be communicated by his or her party whip to the lobby clerk and tellers and may be included in the numbers counted. This is the only permanent provision in Standing Orders for a Member to cast their vote whilst not passing through a division lobby.


This review commenced in Autumn 2020 following the implementation of the Temporary Provisions (SO 110-116 as a result of Covid) when the Speaker wrote to the Committee and suggested that it considers the instances in which proxy voting could be retained on a more permanent basis, and how this might be reflected in Standing Orders.


The Committee wrote to all other local legislators, political parties and Independent Members to seek their views on proxy voting. In addition, the Committee commissioned research on any permanent proxy voting procedures in other legislatures.


The Review is ongoing however there has been agreement at this stage that the policy considerations should extend to both parental leave and long-term illness. There is ongoing consideration of whether or not to extend the policy considerations to include unforeseen circumstances but there is no consensus on this yet.

Relevant recommendation - AERC Report on Women in Politics:


Recommendation 17: The Committee recommended that the Assembly should undertake a review of voting mechanisms used in other legislatures as a means of facilitating family friendly sittings.


Committee on Procedures Review is due to complete in this mandate.



Assembly BodyActivityNotes

Politics Plus

Politics Plus has led on Member development on behalf of the Assembly Commission. Politics Plus has held a number of events and has run a significant range of programmes with a focus on female leadership including:

  • Women in Politics Leadership Programmes
  • Women in Public Life Programmes
  • Ambassadors' Forums
  • Think Tank sessions
  • Be Seen Be Heard Programme
  • A best practice visit to Sweden
  • Young Female Leaders Academy

Relevant recommendation - AERC Report on Women in Politics:


Recommendation 19: The Committee recommended that the Assembly should continue to develop and deliver training and capacity building programmes to assist female MLAs in carrying out their roles as elected public representatives.

Assembly Commission

The Assembly Commission is leading on Member development activities and is developing programmes following consultation with parties to identify priority areas.




Assembly BodyActivityNotes

Assembly Education / Engagement Service

The work of female MLAs is continually referenced in the activities of the Education and Engagement Service, with female MLAs encouraged to attend and tell their stories at events. The Engagement Service runs events specifically targeted to the women’s sector. The creation of the Women’s Caucus has created an ideal vehicle to highlight and coordinate initiatives to profile the work of female MLAs on a non-partisan basis. With the reopening of Parliament Buildings in July and the resumption of events, there will be potential to consider further outreach and engagement activities in the autumn of 2021.

Relevant recommendations - AERC Report on Women in Politics:


Recommendation 20: The Committee recommended that the Assembly should consider targeted engagement with the media, civil society and schools to profile the work of female MLAs.


Recommendation 21: The Committee recommended that the Assembly should consider hosting at least one annual event to highlight the work of female politicians this could coincide with either International Women’s Day or during Parliamentary Week.

Women’s Caucus

As part of the Gender Sensitive Assembly Action Plan, the Women’s Caucus are developing a robust communications strategy in collaboration with the Assembly Communications team to promote and profile the work of former and current women MLAs, including via population of a web page, a Twitter strategy, newspaper articles in constituency papers and a video series.


Assembly Speaker

Since 2015, International Women’s Day has become a permanent date in the annual programme of Speaker’s events including: Facing the Challenge, Leading the Way: This event brought together three female figures who have played leading roles in some of the most challenging areas of recent Northern Ireland society and politics to discuss their experiences, female leadership, obstacles women face and how they overcame them.


Women on Board: Hosted by the Northern Ireland Assembly and Business Trust, Women on Board gave attendees the opportunity to put questions to experienced board members on gender equality and the barriers and enablers that women face when taking up roles on boards in Northern Ireland.


Seen and Heard?: A debate with prominent representatives from the world of broadcasting to discuss under-representation of women as commentators in the media.


An Inclusive Commonwealth: To coincide with the annual Commonwealth Day event, female representatives from each of the five Commonwealth regions spoke about the importance of inclusivity within communities across Northern Ireland, and the role female leaders have to play.


‘Respect’ – A conversation with the Speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly and Dr Helen Pankhurst: This event provided students from local schools with the opportunity to hear about the Speaker’s “Respect” initiative and to pose questions to the Speaker and Dr Helen Pankhurst on the importance of equality and participation.


Know your Power: A screening of “Suffragette” followed by a conversation with Dr Helen Pankhurst, great grand-daughter of Emmeline Pankhurst.


At the Table: As part of Assembly Women’s Week a piece of art was created by the Associate Head of School of Belfast School of Art, Ulster University. The piece was designed to show the lack of women “at the table” making decisions that affect all of society.


No event was held for International Women’s Day 2017 as the Assembly was dissolved for elections.


Politics Plus

Politics Plus recently concluded the delivery of The Next Chapter project. The project was delivered in partnership with Irish Rural Link and Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Action. The Next Chapter was a project targeting women to develop their ideas, build communities and support the transition out of conflict. The Next Chapter aimed to improve the representation of women in public and political life and contribute to a more gender-sensitive society in Northern Ireland and the border regions of the Republic of Ireland. The project was supported by the European Union’s PEACE IV Programme, managed by the Special EU Programmes Body (SEUPB).


Assembly Commission

The Commission has agreed to two initiatives in 2021 which will highlight the role played by women MLAs:


Centenary exhibition – as part of the programme of events agreed by the Commission to mark the centenaries in 2021, the Commission has agreed that an exhibition will be developed to recognise all of the women who played a role in the parliamentary institutions linked to Stormont over the last 100 years. The exhibition will be displayed to coincide with an open day of Parliament Buildings in November 2021.


Review of the display of artefacts in Parliament Buildings – the Commission has agreed a process and a set of principles to review the display of the artefacts within Parliament Buildings and this includes the need to take account of gender. As part of this initiative, the Speaker has already indicated to the Women’s Caucus that the Commission will engage with it to include a permanent depiction of female representatives as part of the Women’s Caucus Gender Sensitive Assembly Action Plan.




Assembly BodyActivityNotes

Assembly Commission / Women’s Caucus / Ad Hoc Committee on a Bill of Rights

There has been no Assembly position on the composition of Assembly delegations as not only does each Assembly body make its own decisions and selections of delegations but party nominations to individual bodies are also a significant factor.


Commission officials are currently undertaking scoping work on behalf of the Commission and engaging with the Women’s Caucus in relation to developing guidance for committees on ensuring witness diversity. The Ad Hoc Committee on a Bill of Rights has recently completed a pilot on witness diversity, involving encouraging organisations to consider diversity when choosing representatives on witness panels, and by providing a Section 75 survey to all witnesses to monitor diversity on an ongoing basis. Consideration may be given to rolling this out across committees.

Relevant recommendation - AERC Report on Women in Politics:


Recommendation 22: The Committee recommended that the Assembly should ensure, where possible, gender representation be considered when agreeing official delegations from the Assembly.



Assembly BodyActivityNotes


RaISe has promoted joint team working to promote cross-cutting analysis within the service, in order to ensure that gender issues are addressed widely and not only in those policy areas which might traditionally be seen as having a gender dimension. Through its written and oral briefings, RaISe has sought to increase understanding amongst committee members of relevant statutory equality duties in order to promote effective scrutiny of the public authorities to which they apply. From 2015 – January 2017, RaISe’s Public Finance Scruitny Unit (PFSU) supported Assembly committees when scrutinising Executive and individual departmental budgets and in-year financial reporting, through proactive and reactive briefings to committees, highlighting key issues in terms of gender, amongst other things, e.g. other Section 75 grounds. More recently, future work has been identified to further develop the PFSU’s existing ‘Public Finance Workshop Series’ and include modules aiming to facilitate committees in terms of their gender scrutiny of budgets and financial reporting.

Relevant recommendation - AERC Report on Women in Politics:


Recommendation 24: The Committee recommended that the Assembly through its Research and Information Service should assist Committees to undertake gender based analysis of public policies and budgets.

Women’s Caucus

The Women’s Caucus have commissioned research from RaISe related to Gender Sensitive Parliaments and the work of Women’s Caucuses in other legislatures. The Women’s Caucus are currently undertaking work on a motion calling for the inclusion of Gender Budgeting in the Programme for Government. To inform this, the

Women’s Caucus have used research on Gender Budgeting produced by RaISe for Committees including the Ad Hoc Committee on a Bill of Rights.




Assembly BodyActivityNotes

Assembly Commission / Committee on Standards and Privileges

Following issues around unacceptable behaviour, and particularly sexual harassment which had occurred in other legislatures, the Commission initiated work to look at policies and measures which could be introduced at the Assembly. However, this work could only be progressed so far when the Assembly was not sitting due to the absence of a Committee on Standards and Privileges. In November 2020, a working group was formed to develop an unacceptable behaviours policy. The Speaker engaged with party whips to ensure that the working group a working group reflected a balance between the Assembly Commission and the Committee, a gender balance and representation from each of the main parties.

The unacceptable behaviours policy is due to be completed by the end of the mandate.



Assembly BodyActivityNotes

Assembly Commission/ Equality Unit

Under Section 75(2) of the Northern Ireland Act 1998, the Assembly Commission, when carrying out its functions relating to Northern Ireland, must have regard to the desirability of promoting good relations between persons of different religious belief, political opinion or racial group.


The Assembly Commission has an action plan setting out how it proposes to fulfil this duty. Read the action plan for the period 2016-21.


The action plan has 6 aims and details all the actions taken by the Assembly to better promote equality of opportunity/good relations.


The aims are listed under the following headings:

  • Dialogue and Consultation
  • Promotion of Good Relations
  • Equality of Service Provision
  • Training and Development
  • Management Information and Data
  • Monitoring.


The Equality Unit provides six-monthly updates on the implementation of the plan to the Commission and a copy of the most recent update (March 2021) is provided as a separate attachment.


As part of the development of the Assembly’s Good Relations Action Plan, stakeholder events are being held with marginalised groups.

The present Good Relations Action Plan comes to an end in November 2021.


A new plan is currently being developed. It is currently estimated that public consultation on the plan will finish November 2021.

Assembly and Executive Review Committee/RaISe

To help plan these events and ensure they are of value and meaningful for participants and the work of the Assembly, the Committee commissioned research to identify what information would be most useful to elicit from these groups. RaISe produced an issues paper/draft questions that the Committee submitted to the action plan working group.


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