Just who has the powers over Welfare in Northern Ireland?

We all got a bit distracted over the resignation of Peter Robinson as DUP leader, but until we get announcement of a new First Minister and party leader, it’s back to the main issues at hand.  Today the Welfare Reform bill goes before the House Commons at 2:30pm.

Last week I wrote a piece explaining about some of the legislative processes around how this was going to be passed. However, since then the Northern Ireland Office have published both the Welfare Reform Order in Council and the Delegated Powers Memorandum.

These two documents contain just who is precisely responsible for what and an explainer for those seeking to understand what these measures mean.

There are two key explainers in the document which might shed some light on the debate over who has the powers. Let’s start with the Order in Council itself (ignore the fact that it referes to the Secretary of State as “he”) but it talks about making further orders to “transfer the powers back to the Department.”


Welfare 2

Then we have the Delegated Powers Memorandum that also conveys the same message;



There is a sunset clause in the Order which comes up in December 2016 which if I am reading it correctly gives powers to the Secretary of State in this area until that point. Granted, it should be pointed out that she is only legislating for what was agreed and voted for (by DUP/Sinn Fein and Alliance MLAs anyway).

These documents were only put up the day after the vote in the Assembly, but they do shed some light on this argument about who has the powers over Welfare in Northern Ireland.

Again this is all very complex, so if anybody else has any light to shed in the comments section, I’d be much obliged.

Note about todays Welfare Bill in the House of Commons- I understand the SDLP have tabled amendments at Westminster to restrict powers of the Secretary of State and bring forward the sunset clause from December 2016, to May 2016. 


David McCann holds a PhD in North-South relations from University of Ulster. You can follow him on twitter @dmcbfs