MLAs represent the people who live in the area that they were elected to represent–their constituency.
When carrying out their legislative and scrutiny roles, MLAs consider the views of their constituents. They press for government action on issues of concern in their constituency.
Most MLAs also represent a political party. They are obliged to follow the party line on many issues, even if it is not popular with their own constituents. The party’s Chief Whip ensures that MLAs know what the party line is.
All MLAs have at least one office in their constituency for meeting their constituents and keeping in touch with local opinion. However, constituency work is not just about listening to constituents’ views. It also involves providing an advice and problem-solving service for constituents. This is often called a ‘constituency surgery’.
There is no Assembly business in Parliament Buildings on a Friday. This allows MLAs to spend a full day in their constituency. They also spend time there throughout the week, in the evening after a plenary session or on a day when they don’t have a committee meeting. It is important for elected representatives to be very visible in their constituency and to provide a good service. After all, they want constituents to vote for them at the next election.
Since the election on 2 March 2017, the people of Northern Ireland have fewer MLAs to represent us, as the number of Members was reduced from 108 to 90. When the size of the Assembly was set at 108 in the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement, we were emerging from a conflict situation and the Agreement sought to make the institutions as fully representative as possible, giving more people a stake in the peace process. So we were over-represented for our population size, compared to Scotland and Wales. However, as peace became established, it was agreed that the Assembly should be reduced in size. This was part of a bigger plan to review the cost of government and save money in difficult economic times