Should the Assembly break the constituency link with Westminster?

The May 2016 election was the last at which 108 Members would be returned to the Assembly. At the next Assembly election there will be a reduction in the number of MLAs returned. The Fresh Start Agreement of November 2015 contained a commitment to reduce the number of MLAs from 108 to 90 and this commitment will be implemented through the Assembly Members (Reduction of Numbers) Bill 2016, which reduces from six to five the number of MLAs returned per constituency. These changes will take effect at the 2021 election or earlier if an extraordinary Assembly election is called. But the constituencies used for Assembly elections are defined in the Northern Ireland Act 1998 as those used for UK parliamentary elections. Potential changes to the number of these constituencies would impact, therefore, on the number of MLAs at the time of the next scheduled Assembly election in 2021.

A map showing the constituencies of Northern Ireland.
A map showing the constituencies of Northern Ireland.

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Could responsibility for Assembly elections be devolved?

On 5 May voters went to the polls to elect 108 Members to the Northern Ireland Assembly. Elections in Northern Ireland are an excepted matter, meaning the UK Parliament is responsible for electoral law and policy. The timing of the election is a matter for the UK Parliament. The election is administered by the Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) with the support of his staff in the Electoral Office and the Electoral Commission will produce a report on the running of the election. This is not to say that the Assembly has not been willing to engage on the issue – the CEO and the Commission gave evidence to the OFMdFM Committee during the last mandate.

But with the Scottish Parliament already exercising more powers in this area and the likelihood of the National Assembly for Wales following suit, is there scope for transferring responsibility for Assembly elections?

A polling station sign.
A polling station sign.

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