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Assembly Glossary

Synopsis: An alphabetical list of terms used in the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Click on a letter below to read more about any terms that begin with that letter.

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

A

Accelerated passage
Accelerated passage happens when legislation is needed urgently and the normal law-making process is shortened. During accelerated passage, the Committee Stage of the bill is excluded and it moves straight to Consideration Stage.
Act
When a Bill passes through all of the stages of the law-making process in the Northern Ireland Assembly and receives Royal Assent, it becomes a law and is called an Act.
Ad Hoc Joint Committee
An Ad Hoc Joint Committee is a temporary committee that is established if a specific issue or piece of legislation is of concern to two or more Assembly Committees. Work of an ad hoc committee is time-bound. Membership of the ad hoc joint committee is made up of representatives from the relevant Assembly committees. It will have a designated remit, terms of reference and timeframe.
Adjournment
The Adjournment is a specific item on the order paper which indicates the close of plenary proceedings for that day. In the Chamber, the Speaker, Principal Deputy Speaker, or Deputy Speakers will announce: “The question is that the Assembly do now adjourn. The Assembly is adjourned.”
Adjournment Debates
An adjournment debate lasts for one hour and is the last item of plenary business every Tuesday. Adjournment debates are a way for MLAs to highlight issues within their constituency and will receive a Ministerial response in the Chamber. You can check forthcoming adjournments debates on the order paper here or watch previous adjournment debates on NIAssembly.tv.
Affirmative Resolution
A Statutory Rule which is subject to affirmative resolution requires a debate and vote in Plenary for approval. The enabling Primary Legislation will set out whether an affirmative resolution is required. Rules that are subject to affirmative resolution are reported on by the Examiner of Statutory Rules and considered by the relevant Committee in advance of the Plenary debate.
All Party Groups
All Party Groups provide an opportunity for MLAs and external organisations and individuals to meet and discuss shared interests in a particular cause or subject. A list of All Party Groups can be found here, along with the rules governing them. A Register of All Party Groups is compiled and maintained by the Clerk of Standards and is regulated by the Committee on Standards and Privileges. The main purpose of the Register is to record which All Party Groups are recognised by the Assembly; who their officers are, and details of any assistance the Group may receive from outside the Assembly.
Amendments
Ministers, Committees or individual MLAs can suggest changes, or amendments, to Bills and motions. MLAs debate the amendments in the Assembly Chamber and vote on whether they should be accepted. Amendments are designed to add to, or otherwise alter the wording of a motion or a schedule of a Bill.
Assembly
The Northern Ireland Assembly, commonly referred to as ‘the Assembly’, is the devolved legislature for Northern Ireland. It is responsible for making laws on transferred matters in Northern Ireland and for scrutinising the work of Ministers and Government Departments. The Assembly sits at Parliament Buildings, Stormont Estate, Belfast. Members (MLAs) meet to debate issues; question Ministers; and make laws for the benefit of people in Northern Ireland. Each MLA represents her or his constituency, and there are 5 MLAs for each of the 18 constituencies.
Assembly Chamber
The Assembly Chamber is where Plenary sessions are held. MLAs usually meet in Plenary every Monday and Tuesday to debate legislation and motions brought forward by Ministers, Committees and individual MLAs. It may, on occasion, be necessary for the Assembly to meet in Plenary in addition to the normal schedule.
Assembly Commission
The Northern Ireland Assembly Commission is the corporate body of the Northern Ireland Assembly. It has the responsibility, under section 40(4) of the Northern Ireland Act 1998, to provide the Assembly with the property, staff and services required for the Assembly to carry out its work. The Assembly Commission may delegate any of its functions to the Speaker or a member of staff of the Assembly and may determine its own procedures.
Assembly Committees
There are 2 main types of Assembly Committee – Statutory Committees and Standing Committees. Committees examine proposed new laws and make suggestions for amendments, review the work of Ministers and their Departments and discuss issues relating to the work of the Assembly. Each Assembly committee specialises in a particular area of work and has a membership of 11 MLAs, except for the Audit Committee that has a membership of 5 MLAs. Assembly committees have met with hundreds of people and considered many different issues that affect the people of Northern Ireland. Examples of these include health issues, water charges, school transfer tests, energy prices, road safety and access to housing. Committees usually meet on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.
Assembly Consent Motion
An Assembly Consent Motion is a mechanism for the Assembly to provide its consent for a decision. ACMs are normally used when a Department wishes to set up or dismantle an arm’s-length body.

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B

Bill
A Bill is a proposal for a new law and can be brought forward by Ministers, Committees or individual MLAs. Members of the public have the opportunity to comment and review all Bills during a formal consultation period. All Bills have to be passed by the Assembly before they become laws. Once passed, a Bill is called an Act.
Budget
The budget is a financial statement that includes an estimate of Government income and planned expenditure. The budget is the responsibility of the Minister of Finance and Personnel.
Business Committee
The Business Committee is made up of representatives from parties with five or more members and is chaired by the Speaker of the Assembly. It agrees and schedules the items of business for Plenary sessions, including the timings for debates. The Business Committee is a Standing Committee.
Business Diary
The Business Diary is a weekly record of Plenary business and Committee Business.
Business Office
The Business Office facilitates the running of Plenary, in particular, the tabling of motions and questions. It also provides Secretariat support to the Business Committee.

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C

Call for Evidence
When Committees are considering Bills, and conducting inquiries, they often ask organisations and members of the public for their views/comments. Committees will advertise its call for evidence in newspapers and on the Assembly website.

Chief Whips see also Whips

The Chief Whips are the most senior whips in a political party. They ensure that MLAs attend Plenary sessions when required and vote according to party instructions.

Clause

Bills are split up into separate components, called Clauses. This allows the Bill to be debated and agreed, or rejected in parts, so that the Bill can be passed, even if some of the Clauses are rejected.

Clerk Assistants’ Office

The Clerk Assistants’ Office services and supports the work of all committees of the Assembly and provides Secretariat support to the Chairpersons’ Liaison Group (CLG).

Code of Conduct (Members)

The purpose of the Members’ Code of Conduct is to assist Members in the discharge of their obligations to the Assembly, their constituents and the public at large. The Code of Conduct includes the principles of Conduct and the Rules to the Code of Conduct.

Commencement Order

A Bill becomes law when it is granted Royal Assent and is known as an Act. If any part of the Bill is not coming into force until a later date, a Commencement Order is needed in order for that part of the Act/Bill to be enforced.

Committee Chairperson

An MLA appointed or elected to preside over a Committee.

Committee Report

A published written report presented to the Assembly outlining a committee’s findings and recommendations on a particular issue.

Committee Stage of a Bill

The third stage of the law-making process, the Committee stage involves detailed consideration of the Bill. During this stage, the Committee can take evidence from interested bodies (including the Government Department) and individuals. Committee members then scrutinise each clause and schedule of the Bill and discuss possible amendments (proposals for change) to it. Committees have no power to amend a Bill but they prepare a report for the Assembly, including any proposals for amendments to the Bill.

Concurrent Committee

A Concurrent Committee may be established where a specific issue or piece of legislation is of concern to two or more Assembly committees. Concurrent committees are comprised of the members of both committees operating and have an agreed completion date. Normal Assembly committee procedures apply to the Concurrent Committee.

Confirmatory Resolution

A Statutory Rule which is subject to confirmatory resolution is already law, but will cease to have effect unless approved by the Assembly in Plenary within a specified period. The enabling Primary legislation will set out whether a confirmatory resolution is required. Rules that are subject to confirmatory resolution are reported on by the Examiner of Statutory Rules and considered by the relevant Committee in advance of the Plenary debate.

Consideration Stage of a Bill

During Consideration Stage of a Bill, the Committee reports its findings and proposed amendments. Amendments can also be proposed by individual Members and the relevant Minister. Members vote on all selected amendments, and on every clause and schedule. The Bill is reprinted if amendments are made.

Constituencies

A constituency is a geographical area, or electoral district. Northern Ireland has 18 constituencies. Each constituency elects 5 MLAs to the Northern Ireland Assembly and one Member of Parliament to Westminster. Belfast is made up of four constituencies, the largest number of any town or city in Northern Ireland.

Cross-Community Support

Bills and Motions usually pass on simple majority vote, where 51% is required. For some issues, the Assembly requires cross community support. There are two different types of cross community support:
  • (i) Parallel Consent is where a majority of MLAs present, as well as a majority of those with unionist and nationalist designations agree.
  • (ii) Weighted Majority. This requires an overall majority of at least 60% of the MLAs present and voting, and must include at least 40% of each of the nationalist and unionist designations present and voting.

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D

Debate

A debate is a series of speeches in the Assembly Chamber where MLAs put forward opposing arguments about a subject. After most debates, MLAs vote on whether they support the statement or not.

Devolution

Devolution or the transfer of powers to make laws, from the UK Parliament to the Northern Ireland Assembly took place in 1998 after the passing of the Northern Ireland Act 1998. In 2010, Policing and Justice matters were also devolved to the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Devolved Matters

Devolved Matters are those that the Northern Ireland Assembly has been given the power, under devolution, to make decisions/laws on.

Division

When there is no clear result from a ‘voice vote’ or if Members challenge the Speaker’s decision, he/she may request a division. Members go to the Division Lobbies on either side of the Chamber according to which way they want to vote: ‘ayes’ to the Speaker’s right and ‘noes’ to his/her left. Each vote is then counted and passed to the Speaker to declare the result. If a Member wishes to abstain from the voting, he/she will vote in both lobbies, negating his/her vote.

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H

Hansard

Hansard is the Official Report of what Members say in the Assembly each day and of all the decisions the Assembly makes. It also records written answers to Assembly questions produces and reports on specific Committee meetings.

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I

Inquiry

Inquiries are investigations, carried out by Assembly Committees, into problems or issues of concern to the people of Northern Ireland. Committees report their findings to the Assembly. A Committee will advertise its inquiry in newspapers and on the Assembly website.

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L

Legislation

A law is a legal rule which state what can or cannot be done in the country.

Legislative consent motion or LCM

A Legislative Consent Motion (LCM) is a motion that allows Westminster to pass legislation on issues over which the Northern Ireland Assembly has devolved authority.

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M

Matter of the Day

Matters of the Day are topical statements made by individual MLAs on something of exceptional public interest or relating to a matter which directly affects Northern Ireland.

Motion

A Motion is a formal proposal or statement for debate in the Assembly Chamber, usually calling for action.

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N

Negative Resolution see also Statuory Rules

The statutory rule is made by the department, laid before the Assembly and will become law unless it is prayed against (motion for its annulment moved by Committee Chairperson or any Member)within the statutory period (10 days on which the Assembly has sat or 30 days, whichever is the longer). This is by far the most common Assembly procedure for statutory rules.

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O

Order Paper

The Business Committee, which meets weekly, agrees the business for a Plenary session or sitting. This is set out on an Order Paper.

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P

Plenary

Plenaries are when the MLAs meet in the Assembly Chamber to debate proposed Bills and discuss Motions. These meetings are open to the public and usually held on Mondays and Tuesdays.

Petition of Concern

Petitions of Concern are notices signed by at least 30 MLAs and presented to the Speaker on a Motion, Bill, Clause or Amendment. If the Speaker rules that the Petition of Concern should apply, the vote will require cross-community support.

Prayers

The first two minutes of each sitting or Plenary session are dedicated to prayers, where only Members and the Speaker’s officials are allowed in the Chamber. The prayer period is opportunity for silent individual reflection.

Private Members

All elected MLAs who are not Ministers are Private Members of the Northern Assembly.

Private Members' Business

Each sitting day, a certain amount of time is set aside for Private Members’ Business, that is, for the consideration of bills and motions put forward by Private Members. Private Members’ Motions can relate to virtually any subject that Members care to raise. It gives our elected representatives (MLAs) the chance to bring to the Assembly for debate, issues that are of particular interest to them. The relevant Minister may be present at the time of the debate to answer questions. MLAs will debate the motion and then take a vote on whether they agree or disagree with the motion. This item of business gives our MLAs the opportunity to inform Ministers how they feel about particular issues, but it is for the Minister to decide whether or not to take action.

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R

Reserved Matters

Matters concerning Northern Ireland that the UK Parliament still has the power to make laws about.

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S

Standing Committees

There are 6 Standing Committees (permanent committees). With specific roles assigned to them from Standing Orders:
  • Business Committee
  • Audit Committee
  • Public Accounts
  • Procedures Committee
  • Standards and Privileges
  • Assembly and Executive Review

Standing Orders

These are the rules that govern the legislative operation of the Assembly. These rules can be changed by the Committee on Procedures.

Statutory Committees

Each Department has a (Statutory) Committee that examines the work of the Minister and the Department. There are 9 Statutory Committees.

Statuory Rules

Statutory Rules can also be referred to as subordinate or secondary legislation and are made to provide the detail and procedures of an Act. There are four kinds of Assembly procedure a statutory rule can be subject to, which is determined by the parent legislation, namely:
  • affirmative resolution - the statutory rule is made by the department and laid in the Assembly but cannot come into operation until the Minister has brought forward a motion in the Assembly and the motion is agreed by the Members; or
  • negative resolution - the statutory rule is made by the department, laid before the Assembly and will become law unless it is prayed against (motion for its annulment moved by Committee Chairperson or any Member) within the statutory period (10 days on which the Assembly has sat or 30 days, whichever is the longer). Note: this is by far the most common Assembly procedure for statutory rules;
  • confirmatory procedure - the statutory rule is made by the department and laid before the Assembly but will not have effect, unless a motion is moved by the Minister, and agreed by Members within (usually) 6 months of the statutory rule’s coming into operation. Note: this procedure is most commonly used for some social security statutory rules and for some statutory rules made under employment legislation.
  • draft statutory rule subject to approval – for a draft statutory rule (where the parent legislation states that it must be approved in draft by resolution of the Assembly before it is made) a motion will be moved by the Minister in the Assembly in relation to the draft rule and if agreed by Members the statutory rule can then be made by the department.
Every statutory rule which is laid before the Assembly and which is subject to proceedings in the Assembly is referred to the appropriate Committee for consideration. To assist the Committees with their consideration, the Northern Ireland Assembly has appointed an Examiner of Statutory Rules who provides the technical scrutiny of the rules and reports to the Assembly and its Committees on the findings.

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W

Whips

Whips are MLAs in each party who are responsible for keeping party members informed about Assembly business. They also make sure MLAs attend the Chamber, especially when there is a vote. Whips try to ensure that MLAs vote in line with their party’s policies

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