Scrutinising the Executive Committee
After a Northern Ireland Assembly election, the Assembly appoints the Executive Committee to exercise executive authority on its behalf. This is the Northern Ireland Government, made up of Ministers who lead Government Departments, including the First Minister and Deputy First Minister. The Assembly must then check the work of ministers and departments to ensure that they are doing a good job. This role is known as 'scrutiny'.
The Executive Committee produces a draft Programme for Government and Budget. These must be considered and approved by the Assembly. As the legislature, the Assembly considers all Executive Bills that Ministers introduce and they won't become law unless passed by the Assembly. The Executive is responsible for delivering important public services and implementing legislation. MLAs scrutinise the actions of Ministers and their Departments, asking questions and investigating issues through their work.
As the elected body, the Assembly is holding the Executive to account on behalf of the people of Northern Ireland. The MLAs carry out this scrutiny role through their work in the Assembly Chamber and in Committees.
Parties outside the Executive also perform a scrutiny role. Following the election on 5 May 2016, the Ulster Unionist Party and the Social Democratic and Labour Party formed the Assembly's first 'Official Opposition'. However, due to the collapse of the Executive in January 2017, it was short-lived.
There is no guarantee of an 'Official Opposition'. When D'Hondt was run to appoint Ministers in January 2020 (for the first time since the election of 2 March 2017), all parties entitled to positions on the Executive took up their places. Smaller parties - the Green Party, Traditional Unionist Voice Party (TUV) and People Before Profit Alliance, as well as one independent MLA carried out the 'party' opposition role, although without the rights and resources of an official opposition. Those rights were strengthened under the New Decade, New Approach Deal and the rules regarding formation of 'the Opposition', as it is now known, changed to allow any party with at least 8% of the vote to be in the Opposition and a party can join the Opposition up to 2 years after the formation of the Executive, not just when D'Hondt is run after an election.
Committees and individual MLAs continue to perform their scrutiny roles.