“As we stated at the election, however, any changes will require the agreement of parties in the Assembly.”

As UTV reports, the Northern Ireland Secretary of State, Owen Paterson, has launched a public consultation on measures which “could improve the operation of the Northern Ireland Assembly.”  Including how the institutions could “evolve over time into a more normal system that incorporates a government and opposition”.  From the introduction to the consultation document [pdf file]

This consultation therefore highlights four key areas about which there has been debate in recent years in Northern Ireland.  The current Parliamentary Boundary Review is taking place on the basis of the number of Parliamentary constituencies in Northern Ireland being reduced from 18 to 16.  This would automatically result in the in the size of the Northern Ireland Assembly at the next election going down from 108 members to 96.  In addition, I have always made clear that I would seek to bring forward legislation to provide for a reduction by a different number if there is broad agreement for this.  There have been calls for the length of term of the Assembly to be extended to 5 years, including the current term; the consultation paper seeks views on this.  I have always made clear my opposition to elected members holding office at both Westminster and Stormont.  Although good progress has been made, the consultation paper seeks views on how best to phase out this practice in line with commitments I made at the general election.  Finally, the paper seeks views on whether the Assembly would be more effective if it had both an inclusive government and effective opposition and if so how this can best be achieved. [added emphasis]

The closing date for submissions is 23 October 2012.

Adds  That may, or may not, answer Mick’s question…