Power-sharing assembly based in Belfast, Northern Ireland. The Assembly came into being as a result of the 10 April 1998 Good Friday Agreement between the contending Unionist and Irish Nationalist communities in Northern Ireland. The agreement negotiated the devolution (handing over) of a range of executive (administrative) and legislative (law-making) powers – in areas including agriculture, economic development, education, the environment, finance, health, and social security – from the secretary of state for Northern Ireland to an elected assembly. Elections were first held on 25 June 1998. The Assembly met for the first time on 1 July 1998, but following disagreements over the creation of a power-sharing executive, did not become fully operational until December 1999. The Assembly executive was suspended in October 2002, after allegations of IRA spying at the Northern Ireland Office, and did not meet again until May 2006, with direct rule from London ending again in May 2007.
Based at the Castle Buildings, Stormont, the Assembly consists of 108 members, 6 from each of the 18 Westminster constituencies in Northern Ireland. Its members are elected by proportional representation, using a system of single transferable votes.
The Assembly effectively took over much of the work of the Northern Ireland Office, although the post of secretary of state for Northern Ireland remains. Additionally, the Assembly is specifically charged with setting up interconnecting bodies between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland to cooperate and take decisions on matters of joint interest. Important decisions of the Assembly are made by a weighted majority system, which is designed to ensure that minority interests in the Assembly can influence legislation.
The first minister and deputy first minister of the Assembly sit in an executive committee, which includes up to ten departmental ministers, with posts allotted on the basis of party support. In 1999 the first minister was David Trimble of the Ulster Unionist Party; his deputy was Seamus Mallon of the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP). Trimble and Mallon resigned in July 2001, after the Irish Republican Army (IRA) failed to make progress towards decommissioning its weapons. However, in October, after it was verified that the IRA had put some arms beyond use, Trimble agreed to stand for re-election and remained as first minister until October 2002, when the executive was suspended.
Ian Paisley, leader of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), was first minister May 2007 to May 2008, with Martin McGuinness of Sinn Fein the deputy first minister. Peter Robinson replaced Paisley as both DUP leader and first minister from May 2008, with McGuinness continuing as deputy first minister.
Northern Ireland Assembly
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