3 February 2017

How to vote in the March Assembly election

The Assembly election is on 2 March 2017 and you will be able to vote if you are at least 18 years old on 2 March; a British, Irish, European or Commonwealth citizen with leave to remain.

In order to vote you must be registered by 14 February. You can find out whether you are registered by calling the Electoral Office on 0800 4320 712. If you are not on the Electoral Register, it’s easy to get on: just download the form from the Electoral Office and return it to your Area Office; a list of these can be found here.

When you go to vote you will need to bring some photographic ID with you. This can take the form of a UK, Irish or EEA driving licence, a UK, Irish or EU passport, the Electoral Identity Card, a Translink Senior or 60+ SmartPass, and Translink War Disabled or Blind Person’s SmartPass. You can also use the registration form to get an Electoral Identity Card—this is a photo ID that can be used to prove your identity when you go to vote.

If your Electoral Identity Card or any other identity documents have expired, you do not need to renew them to vote at a polling station - identity documents produced at a polling station are no longer required to be current, as long as the photograph is of a good enough likeness to allow polling station staff to confirm the identity of the holder.

If you have registered, you will receive a poll card; these will be sent out from 6 to 8 February and include the location of your polling station. You don’t need to bring the poll card with you to the polling station, it’s sent as information purposes only.

Make your vote count—make sure you’re registered for the election!

1 February 2017

Electoral Constituencies in Northern Ireland

Put simply a constituency is an area whose electorate (all the people in an area who are entitled to vote in an election) vote for a representative or representatives to a legislative body.

Northern Ireland is currently divided into 18 constituencies, each of which is currently represented by six Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) to the Northern Ireland Assembly. However, following the 2017 election on 2 March the number of MLAs per constituency will be reduced to five per constituency. This is a result of reforms agreed in the Stormont Fresh Start Agreement (November 2015) and subsequently passed into law in the Assembly Members (Reduction of Numbers) Act.       

Size of the Electorate

While the number of the electorate in each constituency varies the Office of National Statistics electoral statistics for 2015 state that the median total electorate across constituencies in Northern Ireland was about 68,200.
Find out who represents your area with their simple postcode search
How do you know which constituency you are in?

The website lets you search by postcode to find out what constituency you are in and who your elected representatives are.

If you want to know more about your own constituency or any other constituency in Northern Ireland the Research Library Service of the Northern Ireland Assembly produce Constituency Profiles. They provide a statistical overview of each constituency that includes a demographic profile as well as key indicators of Health, Education, Employment, Business, Low Income, Crime and Traffic and Travel.

Boundary reviews

Constituency boundaries are kept under review by four permanent Boundary Commissions:

The Commissions make reports at regular intervals, usually every 5 years, recommending any necessary changes due to population change or changes in local government boundaries.

Any changes must be agreed by both Houses of the UK Parliament.

31 January 2017

Legislative Studies and Practice Programme Blog: Ross Graham – Bill Office

The Legislative Studies and Practice Programme was established in 2009 to provide university graduates with the opportunity to experience working in the Assembly and get a peek behind the curtain of Northern Irish political life. The Programme runs in partnership with Queen’s University Belfast and is part of a Master’s qualification in Legislative Studies and Practice. Students contribute fully to the work of their placement office and use their experience to undertake original research leading to the development of a dissertation.

Now in its eighth year, 40 students have completed the programme so far and over the next few months we will be catching up with the current group, finding out how they are adapting to life in the Assembly and what they are making of the experience.

We begin in the Bill Office with Ross Graham. Coleraine-native Ross graduated from the University of Manchester in 2014 with a Degree in Politics and History. After leaving University, Ross worked for the polling and research company ComRes, based in Westminster. With a keen interest in politics, Ross already knows his way around Parliament Buildings, having completed a week’s work experience with former Deputy Speaker, John Dallat, in 2009.

Ross has been placed in the Bill Office and provides us with an insight into how he’s finding life in the thick of our legislative process –

30 January 2017

It’s only eight months since the last elections to the Assembly were held. Why is another happening so soon?

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, James Brokenshire MP, announced that elections to the Northern Ireland Assembly will take place on Thursday 2 March 2017.  The Secretary of State is required by law to call an election once every five years, or if either the First Minister or deputy First Minister resigns and does not re-nominate to fill the vacant position.

There are two positions within the Executive Office, the First Minister and deputy First Minister.  However, it is a jointly-held office and one Minister cannot be in post without the other.  As set out in the Northern Ireland Act (1998), if either the First Minister or deputy First Minister resigns (and does not re-nominate within a seven day period), the remaining Minister also ceases to hold office.  

In this case, the deputy First Minister resigned at 5pm on Monday 9 January (and did not re-nominate), therefore the First Minister also ceased to hold office and both positions became vacant at 5pm on Monday 16 January, 2017.  

The law then required the Secretary of State to dissolve the Assembly and call for an election.  The Assembly was dissolved at 00:01 on Thursday 26 January, 2017.  

26 January 2017

The Northern Ireland Assembly is now dissolved. But what does that mean? Find out here.

Dissolution is the official term for the end of an Assembly.  The Assembly was dissolved at 00:01 on Thursday 26 January, 2017.  Elections to the next Assembly will take place on Thursday 2 March, 2017.

Following the dissolution of the Northern Ireland Assembly, all MLA seats became vacant and no Plenary or Committee business takes place.

The Stormont Fresh Start Agreement, signed in November 2015, stated that a bill would be introduced in the Northern Ireland Assembly to reduce the number of MLAs per constituency from six to five and have effect from the first "Assembly election after the May 2016 election. The Assembly Members (Reduction of Numbers) Bill was introduced on 12 January 2016 and became law (received Royal Assent) on 22 July 2016. The 2017 elections are the first elections since this Act became law.  Therefore, five MLAs will be elected in each of the 18 constituencies and this will result in a reduction in the number of MLAs from 108 to 90.

MLAs who were in post during the 2016/17 Mandate cease to be Members as soon as the Assembly is dissolved.  They revert to being members of the public and lose privileges associated with being an MLA, to ensure that former MLAs do not have an advantage above other candidates.  Those who wish to be MLAs again must stand again as candidates for election.

As the Northern Ireland Assembly and the Government are two separate institutions, Government Ministers remain in office during dissolution, to manage and oversee the work of their Departments, until polling day (the day of the election).

The Speaker (currently Robin Newton), along with Principal Deputy Speaker (currently CaitrĂ­ona Ruane), and Deputy Speakers (currently Danny Kennedy and Patsy McGlone) remain in office until a new Speaker is elected at the first meeting of the new Assembly.