The Northern Ireland Assembly and the Northern Ireland Executive - What's the difference?

The Executive and the Assembly are not the same!

The Assembly is the legislature, or law-making body, made up of MLAs elected by the people of Northern Ireland to represent their views and make laws on their behalf. It meets in the Assembly Chamber of Parliament Buildings, in the grounds of the Stormont Estate in Belfast.

The Executive is the government of Northern Ireland, made up of Ministers in charge of Government Departments. It meets in Stormont Castle, not too far away from Parliament Buildings, also on the Stormont Estate.

The Ministers are MLAs chosen by their parties, using the D'Hondt System, which allocates seats on the Executive based on the number of seats parties win in the Assembly elections. The more MLAs a party has, the more Ministers it can appoint. Currently, the DUP and Sinn Féin have 3 ministers, the SDLP have 1 and the UUP have 1. The Justice Minister is not appointed using d'Hondt but is elected by the Assembly and must have cross-community support, ie, from both unionists and nationalists.

Departments and Ministers

  • Executive Office - First Minister, Arlene Foster MLA, DUP and deputy First Minister, Michelle O'Neill MLA, Sinn Féin
  • Department for Communities - Deirdre Hargey MLA, Sinn Féin
  • Department for the Economy - Diane Dodds MLA, DUP
  • Department of Health - Robin Swann MLA, UUP
  • Department of Education - Peter Weir MLA, DUP
  • Department of Finance - Conor Murphy MLA, Sinn Féin
  • Department of Justice -Naomi Long MLA, Alliance
  • Department for Infrastructure - Nichola Mallon MLA, SDLP
  • Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs - Edwin Poots MLA, DUP

The Executive's work is coordinated by the Executive Office (home of the First and deputy First Minister). The Executive Ministers are responsible for day to day government operational decisions within their own areas of responsibility. They get together to draw up the draft Budget and the draft Programme for Government (PfG) which have to be approved by the Assembly. The Executive also approves the introduction of Executive legislation to the Assembly.

The Assembly

As the elected body which appoints the Ministers, the Assembly must hold the Executive to account, checking and challenging their work and approving the Executive's budget. For every Government Department, there is an Assembly Committee which shadows the work of that Department and Minister.

MLAs can individually hold Ministers to account by asking written and oral questions and highlighting issues in Assembly debates during Plenary sessions which they want Ministers to address.

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