Review of D’Hondt, Community Designation and Provisions for Opposition

Session: 2012/2013

Date: 18 June 2013

Reference: NIA 123/11-15

ISBN: 978-0-339-60487-2

Mandate Number: Mandate 2011/15 Fourth Report

Committee: Assembly and Executive Review

review-of-dhondt-community-designation-and-provisions-for-opposition.pdf (9.52 mb)

Executive Summary

1. The Assembly and Executive Review Committee is a Standing Committee of the Northern Ireland Assembly that was established to:

  • make a report to the Secretary of State, the Assembly and the Executive Committee, by no later than 1 May 2015, on the operation of Parts III and IV of the Northern Ireland Act 1998; and
  • consider such other matters relating to the functioning of the Assembly or the Executive as may be referred to it by the Assembly.

2. The Committee agreed the Terms of Reference for its Review of D’Hondt, Community Designation and Provisions for Opposition, a Stakeholder ‘Call for Evidence’ Paper and a stakeholder list that included all Political Parties registered in NI.

3. The Committee received and considered 22 Stakeholder responses to the Review. The Committee received oral evidence from Professor Derek Birrell, University of Ulster, Professor Yvonne Galligan, Queen’s University Belfast, Professor Christopher McCrudden, University of Oxford, Professor Brendan O’Leary, University of Pennsylvania, Professor Rick Wilford, Queen’s University Belfast, and Dr Robin Wilson and Ms Eileen Cairnduff from Platform for Change. The Committee also visited the Scottish Parliament and met representatives of the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body and the Parliamentary Bureau, in order to inform the Review.

4. The Committee commissioned and considered two Assembly Research Papers in order to inform Members’ discussions and views on the issues arising from this Review.

5. The Review took evidence on D’Hondt in relation to:

  • Whether there should be changes in the legislative provision and use of d’Hondt in the Northern Ireland Assembly in the allocation of Ministerial offices and/or Committee Chairpersons and Deputy Chairpersons.

The Review took evidence on Community Designation in relation to:

  • Whether there should be changes in the legislative provision and use of community designation in the Northern Ireland Assembly.

The Review took evidence on Provisions for Opposition in relation to:

  • Whether the accountability and effectiveness of the Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive could be improved through the introduction of provisions to formally recognise Opposition, while retaining the principles of power-sharing and inclusivity.

In particular, the Committee took evidence on whether:

  • Opposition Parties/Non-Executive Parties should be allocated appropriate financial resources to assist in their Assembly duties;
  • Arrangements for allocating Chairs and Deputy Chairs of Assembly Committees should be changed to take account of a formal Opposition; and;
  • Opposition Parties/Non-Executive Parties should be guaranteed additional time to raise and debate non-Executive business in the Assembly — including priority speaking rights in response to Ministerial Statements and in Question Time.

The Committee concluded that:

6. There was no consensus on ceasing to use/replacing the current D’Hondt system as the mechanism for allocating Ministerial positions or Committee Chairperson/Deputy Chairperson.

7. The Committee concluded that there is no consensus at present to move to a formal Government and Opposition model, such as exists in Westminster. It also concluded that there is no consensus to move from the current opt-out model, whereby Parties can exercise their right to opt-out of taking up their Ministerial post or withdraw from the Executive, based on existing Assembly provisions.

8. The Committee concluded that financial support for political parties should continue to be allocated on a broadly proportional basis and did not consider that additional resources should be allocated to non-Executive/opposition Parties.

9. The Committee concluded that Parties that exercise their right not to take their Executive entitlement would have “informal” recognition of non-Executive/opposition status on a proportional basis by:

  • Additional speaking rights;
  • recognition of status by order of speaking; and
  • allocation of time for additional non-Executive business – the use of the allocation to be determined by non-Executive Party/opposition.

The representatives of Sinn Féin stated that they were unable to support this conclusion.

10. The Committee concluded that Parties that have failed to meet the Executive threshold for d’Hondt but have reached a suitable threshold should attract appropriate recognition in terms of speaking rights, status by order of speaking and allocation of time for non-Executive business in proportion to their Party strength.

11. The Committee recognised that there may be some value in Technical Groups and recommended that this facility for smaller Parties of the Assembly be reviewed.

12. The Committee concluded that the Parties of the incoming Executive should aim to agree a Heads of Agreement of a Programme for Government in advance of the formation of the Executive, with a full draft Programme for Government published in accordance with
current procedures.

13. The Committee concluded that there was no consensus for replacement of community designation by, for example, a weighted-majority vote in the Assembly of 65%.

14. Following the evidence that was presented to the Committee regarding Petitions of Concern, the Committee concluded that further detailed work in relation to Petitions of Concern needs to be carried out.

Download the full report here.