MLAs represent the people who live in the area 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.They put forward their constituents' views on legislation being considered by the Assembly. They ask questions to Ministers on behalf of constituents and propose motions for debate on issues which affect their constituents, including for adjournment debates (debate on a matter concerning one constituency only). Since 2021, MLAs may also make 'Members' Statements'. This is an easier way to raise current issues of concern than proposing a Matter of the Day or an Urgent Oral Question, which must meet strict criteria in order to get approval from the Speaker.
Most MLAs also represent a political party. They are usually obliged to follow the party line on 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. Larger parties appoint some of their MLAs as spokespersons on certain issues or for certain groups, eg health, education and agriculture; older people and young people.
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, there are 90 MLAs representing the people of Northern Ireland. Previously, there were 108.
Qs What kind of activities might an MLA be asked to do on behalf of their party? What skills and attributes do MLAs need to be a good representative?