More questions than answers - NICVA's response to the Secretary of State's statement

Today (6 September), Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Karen Bradley MP, made an oral statement to the House of Commons regarding the ongoing political situation.

At a glance, here are the key points in Karen Bradley’s statement:

  1. Confirmation (if it was ever needed) that there would be no short-term prospect of an Assembly election: “I intend…to introduce primary legislation in October to provide for a limited and prescribed period in which there will be no legal requirement to set a date for a further election.”
  2. The same legislation would also include provisions that will “give greater clarity and certainty to enable NI departments to continue to take decisions in Northern Ireland in the public interest and to ensure the continued delivery of public services.”
  3. Movement on public appointments: “I will also bring forward legislation which will also enable key public appointments to be made in Northern Ireland, as I set out in my written statement on 18 July.”
  4. Possibility of another round of talks: “I also intend…to engage in further discussions with the parties and the Irish Government in accordance with the three-stranded approach with the intention of establishing a basis for moving into more formal political dialogue.”
  5. MLAs’ salaries to be reduced: “I will take the steps necessary to reduce Assembly members’ salaries in line with the recommendations made by Trevor Reaney. The reductions will take effect in two stages, commencing in November.”  It is understood that the first reduction will be around £7,000pa, with the second of around £6,000pa taking effect three months’ later. Ms Bradley clarified that MLA support staff would not face a reduction in salary.

The Secretary of State’s statement can be read in full here.

NICVA’s response to the Secretary of State’s announcement

NICVA notes today’s announcement from the Secretary of State Karen Bradley but feels a lot more information is needed as to what she is planning to do. The statement poses more questions than answers, and the key questions that remain for us include:

  1. How will new legislation to give ‘clarity and certainty’ on the legal basis for Departments taking decisions move us on from the current stagnation?
  2. Will civil servants get some of the powers currently resting with Ministers and how will they be held to account?
  3. What form and timescale will the “further discussions” with the parties and the Irish Government take and how will they provide fresh impetus toward progress?

The Secretary of State proposes action to cut MLAs' pay and promises to take other action in the next few months, the most critical of which is around ‘decision-making’ in terms of public policy and the management of public services.

The current situation is one of ‘care and maintenance’ by the civil service. It’s not clear if the Secretary of State is really going to put in place a process that goes beyond that. 

NICVA Chief Executive Seamus McAleavey remarked:

“We have called for the Secretary of State to act on a number of fronts. We hope she is going to drive forward a talks process with the political parties on the restoration of devolution. 

“We need clarity on the interim measures for decision-making powers. 

“What powers will she give civil servants to tackle stagnating public policies and public services?  Cover for care and maintenance certainly isn’t enough.” 

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