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Years 8-10 Glossary

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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. MLAs then Vote to decide whether to amend the Bill.

Assembly

Northern Ireland Assembly – a group of 90 Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) who have been Elected by the people of Northern Ireland. The Assembly has the power to make and change laws on local issues in Northern Ireland.

Assembly Chamber

This is a room in Parliament Buildings where MLAs meet on Mondays and Tuesdays. They debate issues, Vote on new 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 of 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 about local issues, called transferred or devolved Matters, 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

Candidates

People standing for election

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 (Bills) 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

A constituency is a geographical area of Northern Ireland that elects five MLAs to the Northern Ireland Assembly. Each constituency also elects one Member of Parliament (MP) to Westminster. There are 18 constituencies in Northern Ireland.

Councillor

Councillors are Elected in your city/district area to sit on a local council. The council provides services in the local community, such as 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 (for example ‘That this Assembly calls on the Minister not to increase university tuition fees’). After most debates, MLAs vote on whether they support the statement or not.

Democracy

In a democracy, people elect politicians to make laws and decisions on their behalf. 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 get involved in the decision-making process. They also allow people and the press to criticise the government.

Devolved/Transferred Matters

After the Agreement of 1998, the UK Parliament devolved (gave) to the Northern Ireland Assembly the power to make laws in certain areas of government, such as agriculture and public transport. These areas are called ‘devolved’ or ‘transferred’ matters.

Economic

Relating to the economy – trade, industry and money

Elect

In an election, voters elect (choose) their preferred candidate(s) or political party to go into government and make laws and decisions on their behalf. Those elected represent the people in their constituency.

Election

An election is a public vote. People choose who will represent them in government and make decisions/laws on their behalf.

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.

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 the countries of Europe

Excepted Matters

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

Executive Committee/Executive

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

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. Together, they lead the government in Northern Ireland. They have equal powers.

First Past the Post

This is the method 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 Unionists and nationalists. It is often called the ‘Good Friday Agreement’ because it was reached on that day, 10 April, in 1998.

Government

The government of a country is made up of both a law-making body, called a legislature, and an executive, which provides public services and makes sure that laws are put into action. The term ‘Government’ (with a capital ‘G’) refers to the executive, for example the Cabinet headed by the Prime Minister in London, or the Executive committee in Northern Ireland.

Government Departments

Headed by Ministers, Government Departments provide us with public services, such as roads and hospitals. They also ensure that laws passed by the Assembly are put into action.

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 matters’ or ‘devolved matters’. The UK Parliament at Westminster makes laws about UK-wide matters – known as ‘excepted matters’.

Legislative

Relating to laws and law-making. Law-making bodies, such as the Assembly, are called ‘legislatures’.

Local Councils

Made up of Councillors elected in your city or district, local councils do not pass laws but provide services for your local community. These include, for example, rubbish collection and disposal, street cleaning, and public parks.

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.

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 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 by the people of Northern Ireland to make laws about local matters on their behalf. There are 90 MLAs.

Minister

Ministers are the heads of Government Departments, for example Finance and Education. They sit on the Executive Committee/Executive with the First Minister and deputy First Minister. The Assembly holds Ministers to account by monitoring 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

This is a group of 90 MLAs, or Members of the Legislative Assembly, elected by the people of Northern Ireland. They have the power to make and change laws on local issues in Northern Ireland.

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.

Parliament Buildings

This is where the Northern Ireland Assembly meets. 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.

Political Party

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

Politicians

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

Power Sharing

Positions of power in this type of government must be shared between political parties that represent different parts of the community. For example, if the First Minister is unionist, then the deputy First Minister must be nationalist. Other Ministers must also belong to different political parties.

Public

The whole community

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

Represent

To act on someone’s behalf. 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.

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.

Stages

The steps in the process of making a law. In the Assembly, a bill has to pass through seven stages before it becomes 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 Matters

After the agreement of 1998, the UK Parliament devolved (gave) to the Northern Ireland Assembly the power to make laws in certain areas of government, such as agriculture and public transport. These areas are called ‘devolved’ or ‘transferred’ matters.

UK Government

This is made up of the UK Prime Minister and Ministers in charge of Government in London. 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.

Vote

To make a choice or express an opinion. In an election, to vote is to state your preference for a candidate or candidates.

Voters

People who vote, or who have the right to vote, in an election. They vote by choosing who they want to represent them in government.

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. The UK Parliament is sometimes called the ‘Westminster Parliament’.