28 February 2018

Young People have their say at Parliament Buildings Event



Education, mental health, community, social media and discrimination were all key issues on the agenda for young people attending this year’s Northern Ireland Youth Congress which took place on Thursday 22 February in the Assembly Chamber at Parliament Buildings. 

This special event, which was coordinated by the Northern Ireland Youth Forum and the Assembly’s Education Service, brought together over 200 young people from across Northern Ireland and was an important opportunity for them to have their say on the issues that matter to them. 

The young people gathered earlier in the day at the Stormont Hotel, where they were welcomed by the Assembly Speaker Robin Newton MLA who told them that he was looking forward to chairing the debate and listening to the issues raised. 

The morning session continued with a series of workshops and discussions aimed at helping the participants to prepare, select and word motions arising from the key issues for the afternoon debate in the Assembly Chamber. 

Following a quick lunch, the young people made their way up to Parliament Buildings, where after a few photographs and interviews with local media, they entered the Assembly Chamber to take part in the debate. They were joined by a number of MLAs from all of the main political parties, who had turned up to listen to the issues raised and to support the call for the future development of a Youth Assembly.   

The Speaker opened the debate by stating that he was delighted to be able to grant special permission for the Assembly Chamber to be used for this important plenary session. He added that such events were an opportunity for young people to have their voices heard and for the Assembly to highlight its continuing commitment to engaging with them. 

One by one, the young people put forward powerful arguments on issues such as the need for more resources to support young people with mental health issues; more education on cyber bullying for young people and adults; more funding for activities for young people; how young people are presented on social media; and discrimination in relation to the Irish language, LGBTQ+ rights and race. During an ‘open floor’ debate, other issues were raised including domestic violence, the constitutional question and the need for more support for young people who need extra assistance at school.

Following the debate, Alex Moore, a member of NIYF Executive Committee, made a statement about the need for a Youth Assembly in Northern Ireland. The Speaker assured Alex that he intended to bring the issue back to the Assembly Commission for consideration at its next meeting in March 2018. 

The Children’s Commissioner, Koulla Yiasouma, spoke at the end of the debate, congratulating the young people on their very passionate contributions and assuring them of her determination to work with them on the issues raised.  

As the Speaker closed the debate, he too thanked the young people for their eloquent, knowledgeable and considered contributions, noting that the standard of debate had been excellent. This was a sentiment echoed by the attending MLAs, as well as those watching the debate from the public gallery.  

14 June 2017

Legislative Studies and Practice Programme Blog: Business 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 political life in Northern Ireland. 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, this series is taking a look at the current group of students and finding out how they are adjusting to their placements in the various working environments of the Assembly. Having already heard from Ross Graham in the Bill Office and the students working in the Committees, we now catch up with Amy Maxwell to find out how she’s enjoying life in the Assembly’s Business Office.

Amy Maxwell


Amy studied History, Politics and English Literature at A-Level before attending Queen’s University to study History and Politics. With a keen interest in Northern Irish politics and the public sector, Amy was attracted to the Programme by the chance to work in the Assembly and gain valuable experience in a political environment. 

Every day is different at the Assembly and I have enjoyed learning about the procedural side of things. My colleagues in the Business Office have been very welcoming and made me feel at ease from the outset.  Currently, I am working in collaboration with a staff member from the Assembly’s research service to produce a paper on gender patterns in tabling questions. I have learned a lot about parliamentary processes, developing a sound understanding of the Assembly’s rules of procedure and what is involved in supporting its Plenary meetings.  For the Themed Report component of the programme, I am undertaking a comparative study into how the Assembly can work to encourage Members and their staff to use a self-service system for the tabling of written questions as is the practice in the Scottish Parliament. So far, I have conducted interviews with key members of staff from the Assembly, the Scottish Parliament, and the Welsh Assembly, as well as conducting a literature review on Parliaments and modernisation. It is my intention that this research will serve as a lesson-learning exercise for the Assembly.  The work I have undertaken in the Assembly has been wide-ranging in nature, allowing me to develop new skills beyond my academic studies and confront new challenges.  In the future, I hope to have a career in the civil service, or certainly one in the public sector. I think the programme, owing to the practical work experience it allows students to undertake, is a perfect stepping-stone to a career in that field and I am grateful to have been given the opportunity to participate.  I also enjoy going for a walk each day during my lunch. It gives me a chance to take in the beautiful surroundings of the Estate!




10 April 2017

Legislative Studies and Practice Programme Blog: RaISe


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 political life in Northern Ireland. 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, this series is taking a look at the current group of students and finding out how they are adjusting to their placements in the various working environments of the Assembly. Having already heard from Ross Graham in the Bill Office and the students working in the Committees, we now catch up with Jessica Galway and John McCaul who are working in the Assembly’s Research and Information Service (RaISe).


Jessica Galway

As an East Belfast native, Parliament Buildings and the Stormont Estate were a familiar sight for Jessica. After studying Government and Politics at A-Level and English and Politics at Queen’s University, Jessica gained a greater understanding of what was happening on her doorstep and a desire to find out more. The LSP Programme provided just the opportunity to gain an invaluable insight into the functioning of the Assembly and a chance to put the theory she had learned into practice.


John McCaul

John has studied Modern History and Politics at Queen’s University and, through the British Council NI’s Study USA Programme, also attended Warren Wilson College in Asheville, North Carolina. John learned about the LSP Programme from previous alumni and was excited at the prospect of being placed in the Assembly and the chance to enhance his analytical, researching and communication skills.



21 March 2017

Legislative Studies and Practice Programme Blog: Committees



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 political life in Northern Ireland. 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, this series is taking a look at the current group of students, finding out how they are getting on and what they are making of their experiences in the heart of the Northern Ireland Assembly. Having already learned how Ross Graham is finding life in the Bill Office, we now catch up with the students working in the Committees – Zoe Rogers, Brendan Corr and Daniel Lowe.



Zoe Rogers – Committee for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs

Law student Zoe developed a keen interest in social justice and human rights law during her studies. During internships with faith-based charities, CARE and Evangelical Alliance in Northern Ireland, Zoe also gained an interest in the process of law-making, the role of civic engagement and the impact of public policy on wider society. With these interests, the LSP Programme provided a perfect opportunity to further develop Zoe’s skills, gaining first-hand experience of a working legislature combined with further study and a chance to undertake original research.



Brendan Corr – Committee for the Economy

Having studied History and Politics at Queen’s, Brendan has always had an enthusiasm for all things political. Through his studies and an internship at political lobbying company Stratagem, Brendan also gained a first-hand perspective of political matters and an interest in how policies and legislation are actually developed. After learning about the LSP Programme from a friend, a little further research told him that this was a course he’d love to do.



Daniel Lowe – Committee for Infrastructure

Daniel has studied Theology in Queens and Business at Maryville College, Tennessee through the British Council’s Study USA programme, eventually graduating with a QUB Certificate in American Business Practice. After learning about the LSP Programme, Daniel recognised the opportunity to gain first-hand experience of the political process and to be in such close proximity to the people and the procedures behind law-making.




3 March 2017

What happens after the election on 2 March?


After the election, the Northern Ireland Act 1998 states that first sitting of the Assembly (called a Plenary sitting) must occur within eight days of the election (not including Saturdays and Sundays). This means that the latest the Assembly can meet for the first time is Monday 13 March 2017.

At this first sitting, all newly elected MLAs will have the opportunity to give an Undertaking and sign the Roll of Membership. It is only after they do this that they can officially take their seats. Following this, the newly elected Members can elect a Speaker, Principal Deputy Speaker and Deputy Speakers although this may also be done at the next plenary.

It is not necessary to appoint a First and deputy First Minister at this first sitting of Plenary. Following the Northern Ireland (Stormont Agreement and Implementation Plan) Act 2016, the appointment of the First and deputy First Minister and the other Ministers who will form the Executive must occur within a period of 14 days of the first plenary meeting.

Executive Ministers are appointed using the d’Hondt system (with the exception of the Minister of Justice) as are the Chairpersons of the Assembly Committees which will scrutinise each Department and Minister. Chairs can only be appointed after the appointment of Ministers has occurred.


Following this, the Assembly can now begin its work with Plenary sittings and Committee meetings.