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Years 11-12 Glossary

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Act

When a Bill passes through all the stages of the law-making process in the Assembly and receives approval by the Monarch – known as Royal Assent – it becomes law and is called an Act.

Adjournment

The suspension of a meeting until the next time.

Amendments

Ministers, Committees and MLAs can suggest changes to a Bill, called ‘amendments’, which they think will improve it. These are debated in the Assembly Chamber. The Assembly then votes to decide whether to amend the Bill.

Assembly

Northern Ireland Assembly

Assembly Chamber

This is a room in Parliament Buildings where MLAs meet on Mondays and Tuesdays. They debate issues, make laws and question Ministers in charge of Government Departments. The meetings are called Plenary Meetings.

Ballot Paper

The piece of paper that people use to vote in an election. It lists the names of candidates (and/or political parties). In Assembly elections, voters use numbers to rank candidates in order of preference: 1, 2, 3, etc.

Belfast/Good Friday Agreement

The 1998 peace agreement for Northern Ireland between the British and Irish Governments, supported by most of the political parties in Northern Ireland. The agreement resulted in a new power- sharing government that included both unionists and nationalists. It is often called the ‘Good Friday Agreement’ because it was reached on that day, 10 April, in 1998.

Bill

A Bill is a proposal for a new law. All Bills have to be passed by the Assembly before they become laws. Once passed, a Bill is called an Act.

Budget

A plan showing how much money will be available to spend and how it will be spent

Candidate

Someone standing for election.

City and District Councils/Local Councils

City and District Councils in Northern Ireland provide us with a range of services in our local community, including waste collection and recycling, leisure centres and parks. They also promote tourism and business, and give planning permission for building projects. We elect Councillors to do this work.

Committees

Small groups of 11 MLAs who specialise in a particular area of work, for example the environment or the economy. They examine proposals for new laws (Bill) in detail and monitor the work of Government Departments and Ministers.

Concurrent Committee

Committees meeting together to consider an issue which is a Matter of Joint Concern.

Constituency

For the elections to the Assembly, Northern Ireland is divided into 18 geographical areas, called constituencies. Each of these elects five MLAs. In the UK Parliamentary elections, each constituency elects one Member of Parliament (MP) to sit in the House of Commons at Westminster.

Constituents

The people who live in the constituency of an elected representative.

Councillor

Councillors are elected in your city/district area to sit on a local council. The council provides a range of services in the community, for example leisure centres and recycling centres

Debate

A series of speeches in the Assembly Chamber. MLAs put forward opposing arguments about a subject. The topic for debate is in the form of a statement, called a motion. After most debates, MLAs vote on whether they support the statement or not.

Democracy

A type of government which is chosen by the people in free and fair elections. If the people are not happy with their elected representatives, they can choose not to vote for them in the next election. Democracies encourage people to vote and get involved in the decision-making process. People and the press are also allowed to criticise the government.

Democratic

Based on the principles of democracy, such as free and fair elections and free speech

Devolution

The transfer of powers from a national to a regional government. The UK has three regional governments, also called ‘devolved’ governments: the Northern Ireland Assembly, the Welsh Assembly and the Scottish Parliament. The UK Parliament has given them the power to make laws and decisions about their own regions.

Devolved/Transferred Matters

The UK Parliament has given the Northern Ireland Assembly the power to make decisions about certain areas of government, such as agriculture and public transport. These are called ‘devolved’ or ‘transferred’ matters.

Draft

An initial plan that has not been finally approved

Economic

Relating to the economy – trade, industry and money

Elect

Choose candidates or parties in an election

Elected Representatives

Although we live in a democracy, we cannot all have a say on every decision that a government makes. Therefore, we elect representatives to take our views into account and make decisions on our behalf. This form of government is a representative democracy.

Election

An election is a public vote. People choose who they think would represent them best in government and make the best decisions/laws on their behalf.

Electoral Register

You must have your name on this list in order to vote in an Election. You can’t vote until you are 18, but you can put your name on the list when you are 17.

European Parliament

The UK is one of 28 countries in the European Union. People in these countries elect Members of the European Parliament – MEPs – to make laws that all member countries must follow. Northern Ireland has three MEPs out of a total of 751. 

European Union

A group of 28 countries that have agreed to join together to promote prosperity and good relationships between countries in Europe

Excepted Matters

Matters that the UK Parliament has not transferred to the Northern Ireland Assembly, such as defense and income tax. The UK Parliament and UK Government in London will continue to make the decisions in these areas.

Executive Committee

The name given to the group of Ministers in charge of Government Departments plus the First Minister and Deputy First Minister. Also known as ‘the Executive’ and sometimes called the Northern Ireland Government, the Committee draws up a plan of action for government and a budget. The Assembly then has to agree both of these.

Finance Minister

The person appointed to manage the money that a government has available to spend

First Minister and Deputy First Minister

The largest Party in the Assembly chooses the First Minister, and the largest party on the other side of the community, unionist or nationalist, chooses the deputy First Minister. The two have equal powers and jointly lead the Northern Ireland Executive.

First Past the Post

This is the method of voting used to elect MPs to the UK Parliament. Only one candidate is elected in each constituency. Voters put an ‘X’ beside the name of their preferred candidate. The candidate with the most ‘X’s wins and becomes the MP for that constituency.

Fresh Start Agreement

Reached in November 2015, this agreement was necessary due to the failure to implement the welfare reform element of the Stormont House Agreement and unionist concern about the status of the IRA, which led to the withdrawal of UUP and DUP Ministers from the Executive. It was agreed that the legislation on welfare reform would be passed by the UK Parliament; a body would be set up to report on paramilitary activity; and the rest of the Stormont House Agreement should be implemented.

Good Friday/Belfast Agreement

The 1998 peace agreement for Northern Ireland between the British and Irish Governments, supported by most of the political parties in Northern Ireland. The agreement resulted in a new power-sharing government that included both unionist and nationalists. It is often called the ‘Good Friday Agreement’ because it was reached on that day, 10 April, in 1998.

Government

Made up of the people who decide how a country is run. The Government, with a capital ‘G’, refers to the leaders (Minister). In Northern Ireland, it is the Executive Committee. With a small ‘g’, government refers to all elected representatives who are involved in making laws and decisions in a particular region or country. In Northern Ireland, that means both the Assembly and the Executive.

Government Departments

Headed by Minister, Government Departments are responsible for a particular area or areas of government. They ensure the delivery of public services, such as roads and hospitals, and the implementation of laws passed by the Assembly.

Inquiries

Investigations carried out by Assembly Committees into problems or issues of concern to the people of Northern Ireland. Committees report their findings to the Assembly and recommend ways to improve how the issues are dealt with in the future.

Laws

Laws are rules that regulate what people can or cannot do. They are necessary to ensure that society runs smoothly. Another word for a law, or laws, is legislation.

Legislation

This is another word for a law or laws. The Assembly is a legislative Assembly, which means that it makes laws. Laws are rules that regulate what people can or cannot do. The Assembly makes laws about local matters in Northern Ireland – known as ‘transferred’ or ‘devolved’ matters. The UK Parliament at Westminster makes laws about UK-wide matters – known as 'reserved' and 'excepted' matters.

Legislative

Legislative means ‘relating to the law’. A legislative body makes laws.

Legislature

A law-making body that has the power to make and change laws.

Local Councils/City and District Councils

City and District Councils in Northern Ireland provide us with a range of services in our local community, including waste collection and recycling, leisure centres and parks. They also promote tourism and business, and give planning permission for building projects. We elect Councillors to do this work.

Manifesto

This is a document that a political party creates before an election. It explains the party’s beliefs and what it intends to do if its candidates are elected to government.

Matters of Joint Concern

Where a matter may be of concern to 2 or more committees, it may be dealt with in 3 ways: by agreement that one committee should take responsibility while seeking the views of other committees; by the committees sitting concurrently – together - to jointly consider evidence and produce a report for the Assembly; or by the establishment of an adhoc Joint Committee, with members from the relevant Committees, which appoints its own chairperson and deputy chairperson.

Matters of the Day

An MLA may make a formal request to the Speaker for permission to make a statement to the Assembly on a matter of exceptional public interest and importance which affects the people of Northern Ireland and which has arisen since the Assembly was last adjourned. The request must usually be made before 9.30 am on the relevant sitting day.

Member of Parliament (MP)

Members of the UK Parliament are elected to the House of Commons at Westminster. They make laws that affect the whole of the UK. One MP is elected from each of the 18 Northern Ireland constituencies.  There are 650 MPs in total.

Member of the European Parliament (MEP)

Members of the European Parliament are elected to make laws that affect all of the countries in the European Union.

Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA)

Members of the Legislative Assembly are elected to represent the views of the people of Northern Ireland and make Laws on their behalf.

Minister

Ministers are in charge of Government Departments, for example Finance and Education. They sit on the Executive Committee with the First Minister and Deputy First Minister. The Assembly appoints Ministers and holds them to account by scrutinising their work to ensure that they are doing a good job.

Nationalist

Nationalists are those who want Northern Ireland to be reunited with the Republic of Ireland.

Northern Ireland Assembly

The legislature, or law-making body, for Northern Ireland. It is made up of 90 elected Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs).

Official Opposition

Since May 2016, parties which are entitled, under d’Hondt, to a Minister or Ministers on the Executive Committee may choose to opt out and form an Official Opposition. The Official Opposition is entitled to research and financial assistance, extra speaking and questioning rights in plenary meetings, and the right to determine Assembly business on 10 plenary days per year. Other, smaller parties not in the Executive Committee perform an ‘unofficial opposition’ role.

Oral Questions

MLAs ask these questions to Minister, and Ministers answer them during QuestionTime in the Assembly Chamber.

Parliament Buildings

This is the home of the Northern Ireland Assembly. It is located on the Stormont Estate in Belfast.

Plenary Meetings

Meetings in the Assembly Chamber on Mondays and Tuesdays that all MLAs can attend. At these meetings, they debate, vote on issues and legislation, and question Ministers.

Policies

Policies are proposals for public services, such as education and healthcare. Political parties state their policies in their election manifesto. Government Departments and Ministers also develop policies and put them into action.

Political Party

An organised group of people with similar views about how a country/region should be run. Political parties try to get members elected to government so that they will have as much power as possible to influence decisions and laws.

Politicians

People elected, or seeking to be elected, to government.

Power Sharing

A model of government in which the Politicians who represent different communities share power. This means that more than one party has Ministers in the Executive and both unionist and nationalist communities must be represented.

Public Petition

A petition requesting action by government on a particular issue, signed by numerous members of the public. The Petition is presented to the Assembly by an MLA. In practice the Member will make some brief introductory remarks about the content of the petition and the number of signatories before formally presenting it to the Speaker. The Speaker then arranges for the petition to be sent to the relevant Minister and copied to the Chairperson of the relevant statutory committee. The Minister will normally respond to Members or to the Speaker at some stage thereafter outlining what action is being taken on the issue.

Public Services

Services that we all need which the government provides, for example hospitals, schools, roads and water services

Question Time

At meetings in the Assembly Chamber, time is allocated for MLAs to ask Ministers questions about the work of their [qtip:Departments. It is part of an MLA’s job to hold Ministers to account in this way. Each Minister answers questions in the Chamber once every 2-3 weeks for 45 minutes.

Represent

To act on behalf of someone else. We live in a representative democracy, which means that we elect people to represent our views and make laws and decisions on our behalf. MLAs represent their constituents – the people who live in the area where they were elected.

Reserved Matters

These areas of government are currently the responsibility of the UK Parliament but could be transferred to the Assembly in the future. Policing and justice powers were on this list until they were devolved in April 2010.

Scrutinise

To examine carefully and monitor closely

Scrutiny

Close examination and monitoring of something. The Assembly scrutinises all proposals for new laws (Bills) and the actions of Ministers and their Departments.

Single Transferable Vote (STV)

The type of election system we use in Northern Ireland for elections to the Assembly, the European Parliament, and local councils. It involves ranking candidates in order of preference (1,2,3 ...). See our animation explaining how it works.

Snap election

An election which is called earlier than expected. Following the resignation of Martin McGuinness as deputy First Minister on 9 January 2016 and Sinn Féin’s refusal to re-nominate within a week, the Secretary of State called for an election on 2 March 2017, only 10 months after the May 2016 election. The next election had not been due to take place until May 2021.

Speaker

The MLAs elect a Speaker to chair meetings in the Assembly Chamber. The Speaker also chairs the Business Committee, which decides the agenda for meetings, and the Assembly Commission, which is in charge of running the Assembly.

Stages

Steps in the law-making process. In the Assembly, a Bill has to pass through seven stages before it becomes an Act (a law).

Stormont House Agreement

Reached on 23 December 2014 to resolve disagreements over welfare reform, flags, parades and dealing with the past. There would be: extra money from the UK government (£500m) to ease the impact of welfare reform; action to deal with the past; devolution of corporation tax and parades; provisions for an Official Opposition; new measures to promote greater Executive efficiency; reduction in number of government departments from 12 to 9, post the 2016 election, and in the number of MLAs from 108 to 90 in the following election; a review of the Petition of Concern; agreement on a draft Programme for Government within 2 weeks of the first meeting of the Assembly after an election (instead of 1 week); a new commission to consider flags, identity, culture and tradition; endorsement by the UK and Irish governments of the need for respect for linguistic diversity. The agreement on welfare reform later broke down and a further agreement was required. See Fresh Start Agreement.

Taxes

Money that the people in a country have to pay to the Government so that it can provide public services, such as health care and education.

The Troubles

The period of violence in Northern Ireland that began in the late 1960s and ended with the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement in 1998.

Transferred/Devolved Matters

The UK Parliament has given the Northern Ireland Assembly the power to make decisions about certain areas of government, such as agriculture and public transport. These are called ‘devolved’ or ‘transferred’ matters.

UK Government

This is made up of the UK Prime Minister and Ministers in charge of central or national Government Departments. It is also called ‘the Cabinet’ and meets at 10 Downing Street, London.

UK Parliament

This is made up of the House of Commons and House of Lords. It meets at  Westminster, London. The UK Parliament makes laws on issues that affect the whole of the UK.

Unionist

Unionists are those who want Northern Ireland to remain in the UK.

Unofficial Opposition

Comprises parties in the Assembly which do have enough MLAs to qualify them for membership of the Executive Committee under d’Hondt and independent MLAs.

Voters

In elections, voters choose candidates or parties that they want to represent them and make decisions on their behalf. They usually mark their choice or choices on a ballot paper. The minimum age for voting in most countries is 18.

Westminster

The Palace of Westminster in London, which is home to the two Houses of the UK Parliament: the House of Commons and House of Lords

Written Questions

Questions to Ministers, asked by MLAs, that receive a written reply