Interesting development in the ongoing saga of the Causeway Visitor’s Centre. The Assembly’s Environment Committee voted to ask the Speaker to formally request documents relating to the Environment Minister, the DUP’s Arlene Foster, statement that she was “of a mind to approve” Seymour Sweeney’s private development proposal. As well as the official advice she received they’ll possibly be looking for any signs of lobbying “either supporting or opposing the application” and, in particular, any communications from Ian Paisley Jnr. The Committee had warned the minister in November that they would exercise that power.. but according to the DUP statement, who along with the Alliance party members voted against, the decision was in defiance of legal advice. As with the age of the Causeway there are alternative views of that advice..The mechanism the Committee has invoked is Section 44 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998
44 Power to call for witnesses and documents
(1) The Assembly may require any person—
(a) to attend its proceedings for the purpose of giving evidence; or
(b) to produce documents in his custody or under his control, relating to any of the matters mentioned in subsection (2).
(2) Those matters are—
(a) transferred matters concerning Northern Ireland;
(b) other matters in relation to which statutory functions are exercisable by Ministers or the Northern Ireland departments. [added emphasis]
(3) The power in subsection (1) is exercisable in relation to a person outside Northern Ireland only in connection with the discharge by him of functions relating to matters within subsection (2).
(4) That power is not exercisable in relation to a person who is or has been a Minister of the Crown, or a person who is or has been in Crown employment within the meaning of Article 236 of the [S.I. 1996/1919 (N.I.16).] Employment Rights (Northern Ireland) Order 1996, in connection with the discharge of any functions prior to the appointed day.
(5) That power is not exercisable in relation to—
(a) a person discharging functions of any body whose functions relate to excepted matters, in connection with the discharge by him of those functions;
(b) a person discharging functions of any body whose functions relate to reserved matters, in connection with the discharge by him of those functions;
(c) a judge of any court or a member of any tribunal which exercises the judicial power of the State.
(6) That power may be exercised by a committee of the Assembly only if the committee is expressly authorised to do so by standing orders.
(7) The Presiding Officer shall give the person in question notice in writing specifying—
(a) the time and place at which the person is to attend and the particular matters relating to which he is required to give evidence; or
(b) the documents, or types of documents, which he is to produce, the date by which he is to produce them and the particular matters to which they are to relate.
(8) Such notice shall be given—
(a) in the case of an individual, by sending it, by registered post or the recorded delivery service, addressed to him at his usual or last known address or, where he has given an address for service, at that address;
(b) in any other case, by sending it, by registered post or the recorded delivery service, addressed to the person at the person’s registered or principal office.
(9) A person is not obliged under this section to answer any question or produce any document which he would be entitled to refuse to answer or produce in proceedings in a court in Northern Ireland.
(10) In this section “statutory functions” means functions conferred by virtue of any enactment.
And The relevant Standing Order 46 – which grants the power to use Section 44 to Statutory Committees.