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The Assembly & Executive

What is the difference between the Assembly and the Executive?

The Assembly is the legislature, or law-making body, made up of MLAs elected by the people of Northern Ireland to represent their views and make laws on their behalf. It meets in the Assembly Chamber of Parliament Buildings, in the grounds of the Stormont Estate in Belfast.

The Executive Committee – or ‘Executive’ – is the Government of Northern Ireland, made up of Ministers in charge of Government Departments. The Ministers are MLAs chosen by their parties, using the D'Hondt System, which allocates seats on the Executive based on the number of seats parties win in the Assembly elections. The more MLAs a party has, the more Ministers it can appoint. In the 2011-16 mandate, there were 5 parties in the Executive. After the last election on 5 May 2016, the UUP and SDLP decided not to take their seats on the Executive (they were entitled to one each) and they now form the first Official Opposition in the Assembly. Currently, the DUP have 4 Ministers and Sinn Féin have 3. The Justice Minister is not appointed using d'Hondt but is elected by the Assembly and must have cross-community support, ie, from both unionists and nationalists.


      Executive Office - First Minister and deputy First Minister

      Department for Communities

      Department for the Economy

      Department of Health

      Department of Education

      Department of Finance 

      Department of Justice

      Department for Infrastructure

      Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs

The Executive Committee meets in Stormont Castle, also on the Stormont Estate. Its work is co-ordinated by the Executive Office (First and deputy First Minister).

Ministers are responsible for day to day government operational decisions within their own areas of responsibility. They get together as the Executive Committee to draw up the draft Budget and the draft Programme for Government (PfG) which have to be approved by the Assembly. The Executive also approves the introduction of Executive legislation to the Assembly.

As the elected body which appoints the Ministers, the Assembly must hold the Executive to account, scrutinising Ministers’ proposals for new Laws and operational decisions. For every Government Department, there is a Assembly Statutory Committee which shadows the work of that Department and Minister. We now also have an  Official Opposition to scrutinise the work of Ministers - the UUP and the SDLP. Other partes outside the Executive - the Alliance Party, the Green Party, People before Profit and the TUV - will act as the unofficial opposition. MLAs can individually hold Ministers to account by asking written and oral questions and highlighting issues in Assembly debates and in the media which they want Ministers to address.  

Play the video on the Assembly and Executive to see how D'hondt works.