Time for a review..

A brief Irish Times report notes the first meeting of the Assembly and Executive Review Committee today and makes a quick comparison of all the devolved administrations

Northern Ireland has 108 Assembly members and 11 devolved departments for a population of 1.7 million. This compares to the Scottish Parliament’s 129 MSPs and six departments for a population of 5.1 million. The Welsh Assembly has 60 elected members and seven ministries for a population of 2.95 million.

As Lord Rooker once told the Belfast Telegraph’s David Gordon, “Let’s face it, the structure of the 11 departments is absolutely barmy. It’s illogical.”

  • “Let’s face it, the structure of the 11 departments is absolutely barmy. It’s illogical.”
    Here, here!

    But NI politicians giving up the trappings of power is not very likely.

  • kensei

    “But NI politicians giving up the trappings of power is not very likely.”

    Actually, if the DUP and SF thought they could squeeze out the UUP and the SDLP….

  • fair_deal


    Apologies for the double posting – I have deleted it.

    On the topic itself, if the Welsh proportions were duplicated the number at the Assembly would reduce to approximately 35 and if Scotland were copied it would reduce the number of MLA’s to approximately 43. So it shows how deep a reduction should be considered.

    I also think we need to look at the electoral system too and move away from multi-seat constituencies.

  • carlos

    Since when did we start quoting Lord ‘No Brains’ Rooker as an authority on serious government or policy implementation?

  • Alan

    I had colleagues visiting from Wales last week and we went up to Stormont to take a trot around ( thanks Stephen, Kieran et al ).

    They were perplexed at the sheer number of departments, but I then explained about having 26 councils and it all fell into place for them.

    There were a number of key differences that were flagged up that should be the subject of some discussion – mostly relating to public access at Stormont.

    Firstly, the Nat Assembly of Wales is in the heart of Cardiff and very accessible ( they even have a loo for severely disabled adults ). Ordinary people will walk into the W Assembly for a cup of coffee and drop in to check out the debates. Stormont has a prickly access policy that at best fails to attract us – the great unwashed electorate – and at worst excludes the public.

    The building is a bit of an albatross as well. While we all understand the political iconography, there is very limited opportunity to bring the public up to the building and build the sense of ownership that has developed in Wales. We should consider developments at Stormont around the existing buildings that make the Assembly a venue for cultural events that people can just turn up to – we are not all Michael Stones !

    Stormont still sits in the steam-typwriter age. In the Assembly itself – we have a mike system that hates mobile phones and there is no access for computers. In Wales my colleague e-mails AM’s with rebuttals in the middle of debates – the emails arrive in front of the AM’s eyes at their personal work stations. How can we expect our politicians to provide proper representative government when they have to work from leather benches with their papers balanced on their knees?

    My colleagues also raised the issue of the absence of women on Committees – there are no women repesented on Agriculture, Environment, Culture or Regional Development committees.

    So is anyone at BBC or UTV up for a programme on developing public access ?

  • Gewurztraminer

    Comparisons between Wales/Scotland and NI are invidious – the institutions here (brownie points from Conor) are a result of international agreement and the need to have a solid enough system to ensure a fair balance of power.

    That said 11 departments is ridiculous and with the potential devolution of Law and Order 12 is too much. We should probably go back to the old 6 department system plus OFMDFM and a new justice ministry. We should also question the need for Junior Ministers. We need 108 members at the moment to cover the necessary Committee work load. If the number of departments were reduced, the workload and the need for balance would militate for at least 72 members, ie 4 per Westminster constituency.

    To move from multi-seat constituencies would mean either a return to first past the post or the introduction of a new system: party lists – one NI constituency; AMS – which is essentially STV for single constituencies; or the hybrid Scots/Wesh system which supplements FPP with party lists.

    I suspect that the nationalist parties would be reluctant to move away from a system which is very close to that in the other jurisdiction (sorry Conor – I don’t think that phrase is on your list!)

    As a footnote the seat distribution (based on the election % vote and 4 member constituencies) would be something on the lines of: DUP 25, SF 19, UUP 12, SDLP 11, APNI 5. This would mean (based on 7 departments) 3 DUP, 2 SF, 1 UUP and 1 SDLP with teh Dups and Shinners sharing OFMDFM. Probably acceptable to the parties.

  • Plum Duff

    I couldn’t agree more. The whole Assembly is over-staffed (stuffed?) for the size of our population. The British Government should have stopped at seven councils and scrubbed any further idea of a superior body, except, perhaps, for a monitoring body of about a dozen or so.

    Another point of interest is that with every hike in salary and/or allowances, our esteemed members’ sense of self importance seems to rise commensurately. I wonder also has anyone ever done a tally of nepotistic appointments throughout the various fora. There appears to be a lot of quids going into a select number of family households.

  • Wilde Rover


    Based on your numbers I’ve had a go at calculating a rough estimate of seats divided between the parties, based on a party list one NI constituency. Greens came in under a quota so I have omitted them.

    The results of these calculations (rough, probably a bit unscientific, of questionable application because of absence of data on potential constituencies, not knowing if it would be FPP or PRSTV, etc) are:

    35 seater
    DUP 11, SF 10, SDLP 6, UUP 6, AP 2

    43 seater
    DUP 14, SF 12/13*, SDLP 7, UUP 7, AP 2/3*

  • Wilde Rover

    Calculations based on the last Assembly election results.

  • darth rumsfeld

    The old Stormont parliament had 52 members, most of whom had little enough to do in the -gasp!- 36 days they sat in plenary session per annum.It was so boring many seats weren’t even contested for decades. Seems an admirable precedent to me.

  • fair_deal


    I had the Scottish system in the back of my mind when I raised the topic but I have no hard position on it. I am just not a fan of the multi-member constituencies, encourages far too much parochialism aka parish pump politics.

  • Wilde Rover


    True, the multi seater set up does leave public representatives all beating their breasts for their territory in a most undignified fashion, much like our simian ancestors, to the detriment of their more cerebral duties as legislators.

    However, I find the FPP single seater alternative is a little chilling, to be frank. I think the whole FPP thing went totally sour for me when Maggie said her greatest achievement was New Labour. Tweedle dum or tweedle dee now. And don’t get me started on Pepsi Vs Coke across the big water.

    I think on the balance, I prefer the multi seater system. As someone who has lived under PRSTV in the south, I think you end up with breast beaters, but lots of different breast beaters.

    And a few good legislators always seem to be in there somewhere.

  • Billy Pilgrim

    Fair Deal

    “I am just not a fan of the multi-member constituencies, encourages far too much parochialism aka parish pump politics.”

    What’s wrong with parochialism in politics? Every candidate standing for election promises to “fight for (fill in name of constituency)”. Why shouldn’t that actually be the case? Why should a parliament be the scene of real, passionate arguments in which real issues that affect people’s lives are fought out? (Or conversely, in which deals are hammered out away from the floor, so everyone wins a little.)

    In Britain there doesn’t seem to be a great deal of parish pump politics, it’s all very centralised. Is this such a good thing? Where is the in-built mechanism that ensures the interests of the regions are heard?

    To be honest, I think Westminster is stuck in the 19th century and needs a radical overhaul, beginning with multi-member STV constituencies, but that’s just my opinion.

    One of the great things about STV multi-member constituencies in our beloved, divided NI is that unionists in south Armagh or nationalists in north Antrim have representatives they can go to quite comfortably. This isn’t like Britain, where Tory voters go to their Labour MP or whatever. We have more long-standing difficulties here, so the fact that Daithi McKay and Danny Kennedy are there is a good thing for everyone.

  • Sue

    “Let’s face it, the structure of the 11 departments is absolutely barmy.”


  • crownesq

    It is not the number of departments that is he problem although fewer would be more appropriate for the size of the administration. It is the number of Civil Servants employed by these departments. At 29,000 the ratio is one to every 59 citizens compared to England and Wales where the ratio is around 250. This also includes the dpartments of state for the foreign office, treasury etc that cover the whole of the United Kingdom. After trying their best to downsize Local Government services, where the actual work is carried out in the shape of teachers, nurses etc., the Civil Servants are now trying to protect their future by avoiding a proper review of their role and numbers. If it takes the pay of 108 Assembly members to get to the bottom of this empire it is money well spent.

  • Diluted Orange

    So that’s 108 MLAs, by population ratios, doing less than one third of the work of Scottish MSPs per represented constituent, only in intermittent periods when the Assembly is up and running (and getting full pay at times when the Assembly is suspended).

    Who says our MLAs don’t deserve their huge pay rises?

  • Pete Baker


    “Since when did we start quoting Lord ‘No Brains’ Rooker as an authority on serious government or policy implementation?”

    If you disagree with his opinion on our devolved Assembly and it’s Executive then state your case.. otherwise your comment will be, rightly, filed under ‘playing the man’..

  • Aquifer

    Ensuring government acts in a co-ordinated way is a live issue whether there are 6 or 16 departments. It would be good to get a set of cross-cutting key indicators of progress, or to give different departments ‘sign off’ when they assess that the contribution of other departments to their goals is adequate.

    e.g. If we are serious about building a competitive economy Enterprise might be signing off programmes by Education and Learning.

  • fair_deal


    No system abolishes parochialism nor should it try. However, IMO, the multi-member constituency makes it the over-riding element of politician’s focus.

  • Pounder

    The Assembly does have too many members, thats a fact, but it’s necessary at the moment, to make sure all the people are served equally. I live in east Belfast and no disrespect to our MP, well not this time, but there is no way residents from the Short Strand can feel comfortable asking for help from his office. In time if and when things get settled we can consider downsizing the MLA’s and their goverment employees.