Ban on MLAs double jobbing to be extended to Dáil
New bill outlined in queen’s speech today
The Parliament Buildings in the Stormont Estate in Belfast. Photograph: Paul Faith.
A proposed ban on Stormont Assembly members also working as Westminster MPs is set to be extended to include the Dáil.
The British government’s Northern Ireland Bill, which was outlined in the queen’s speech today, contains a measure to end the practice of politicians double-jobbing in Northern Ireland.
The prevalence of MLAs who also sat in the House of Commons as MPs developed into an issue of public concern in the region, prompting the main parties at Stormont to pro-actively reduce their number of representatives filling two jobs.
But three high-profile politicians — Democratic Unionist finance minister Sammy Wilson, former DUP sports minister Gregory Campbell and SDLP leader Alistair McDonnell — still perform both roles.
Northern Secretary Theresa Villiers outlined her intention to outlaw the practice by 2015 when she published the draft form of the Northern Ireland Bill earlier this year.
But during the consultation exercise on the proposals, some contributors pointed out a potential loophole that while it was envisaged that MLAs could no longer be MPs, there was hypothetically nothing to prevent them becoming elected TDs in the Republic of Ireland.
The Bill, which will brought before the House of Commons later this week, contains a ban on MLA double-jobbing that covers both the House of Commons and the Dáil in Dublin.
As expected, the legislation will also introduce a greater degree of transparency around donations to political parties in Northern Ireland.
Confidentiality has long been afforded to such donors over potential concerns for their safety.
Under the proposed legislation, it is envisaged that the region’s Electoral Commission will be able to publish further information about donations, though stopping short of revealing names and addresses.
A measure to extend the length of Assembly terms to five years is included as well, as are changes as to how the region’s justice minister is appointed.
The portfolio, due to its sensitive nature, is currently not allocated under the d’Hondt mechanism used to appoint other ministers, and instead on the basis of a cross-community vote in the Assembly.
The system allows for the minister to be removed from office by way of a similar cross-community vote.
The Bill proposes to provide more job security for the minister by ending this removal option.
The legislation also includes a measure that could enable MLAs to legislate to reduce the size of the Northern Ireland Assembly from 108 in the future.
Other elements will enable Stormont MLAs to legislate, with the consent of the Secretary of State, on issues relating to the NI Civil Service Commission, NI Human Rights Commission and District Electoral Areas Commissioner.
The Bill is largely technical in nature and is designed to improve the way the political institutions operate in Northern Ireland.