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The Assembly & Executive

What is the difference between the Assembly and the Executive?

The Assembly is the legislature, or law-making body for Northern Ireland, made up of 90 Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) elected by the people to represent their views and make laws on their behalf. It meets in the Assembly Chamber of Parliament Buildings, in the grounds of the Stormont Estate in Belfast. All laws on Transferred Matters must be passed by the Assembly. It debates and scrutinises proposals for laws, suggests amendments and votes on whether they should become laws. Proposals for new laws are called Bills. When they have been passed by the Assembly and received Royal Assent, they become Acts. The Assembly passed 67 laws during the 2011 to 2016 mandate. Most proposals for laws come from Executive Committee Ministers. MLAs and Assembly Committees can also propose laws.

The Executive Committee – or ‘Executive’ – is the Government of Northern Ireland, made up of Ministers in charge of Government Departments. Ministers are MLAs chosen by their parties under the D'Hondt System, which allocates seats on the Executive based on the number of seats parties win in the Assembly election. The more MLAs a party has, the more Ministers it can appoint. A special arrangement is in place to appoint the Minister for Justice, who has to be elected by the Assembly with cross-community support, ie, the support of both nationalists and unionists. In the 2011-16 mandate, four parties were entitled to seats in the Executive under d'Hondt. A Minister from a fifth party was elected as the Justice Minister. After the election of 5 May 2016, the UUP and SDLP decided not to take their seats on the Executive (they were entitled to one each) and and formed the first Official Opposition in the Assembly. The DUP had 4 Ministers and Sinn Féin had 3 Ministers. The Assembly elected an independent unionist as the Justice Minister. 


      Executive Office - First Minister and deputy First Minister

      Department for Communities

      Department for the Economy

      Department of Health

      Department of Education

      Department of Finance 

      Department of Justice

      Department for Infrastructure

      Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs

The Executive Committee meets in Stormont Castle, also on the Stormont Estate. Its work is co-ordinated by the Executive Office (First and deputy First Minister).

Ministers are responsible for day to day government operational decisions within their own areas of responsibility. They get together as the Executive Committee to draw up the draft Budget and the draft Programme for Government (PfG) which have to be approved by the Assembly. The Executive also approves the introduction of Executive legislation to the Assembly.

As the elected body which appoints the Ministers, the Assembly must hold the Executive to account, scrutinising Ministers’ proposals for new Laws and operational decisions. For every Government Department, there is a Assembly Statutory Committee which shadows the work of that Department and Minister. We now also have arrangements in place for an Official Opposition. MLAs can individually hold Ministers to account by asking written and oral questions and highlighting issues in Assembly debates and in the media which they want Ministers to address.  

Play the video on the Assembly and Executive to see how D'hondt works.