Recess is over, lots of homework to be done

18 January 2021 - by Adam Newton

Although it may seem that there wasn’t much of a Christmas break for politics, the Assembly officially returns from recess today. With the increasing challenges of COVID-19, a Brexit deal and the end of the transition period, alongside transfer test issues, the Assembly was recalled three times over the past few weeks, and there is no sign of any let up in the weeks and months ahead.

And while the immediate pressures from COVID and Brexit will continue to be at the fore of decision making within both the Executive and the Assembly, delivery on the commitments set out in New Decade, New Approach (NDNA), as well as a new Programme for Government (PfG) remain outstanding.   

NDNA commits the parties to building on the previous PfG outcomes, with a new focus on housing, education, childcare, infrastructure and services, climate change, ending sectarianism and tackling paramilitaries.   

The deal also contains a raft of proposals that seek to enhance the sustainability of the institutions and improve accountability, including at least one Citizens' Assembly a year and the establishment of a Fiscal Council.   

Critically, the next PfG – due to go out to consultation on 25 January for 8 weeks -  will also need to deliver on important long awaited supporting strategies, including: 

  • Anti-poverty Strategy 

  • Economic / Industrial Strategy  

  • Investment Strategy  

  • Energy Strategy 

  • Racial Equality Strategy 

  • Disability Strategy 

  • Gender Strategy 

  • Sexual Orientation Strategy 

  • Active Ageing Strategy 

  • Children and Young People’s Strategy 

  • Irish Language Strategy 

  • Ulster Scots Strategy 

On top of the PfG there are a number of other key departmental commitments outstanding, including a Cancer Strategy from the Department of Health, legislation and targets for reducing carbon emissions in line with the Paris Climate Change Accord, personal injury discount rate and the roll out of a Green New Deal. 

The pressure will be on both the Assembly and Executive to deliver on their legislative programme within the short mandate they have left, with the next Assembly election set to take place in May 2022, and it can be expected the use of accelerated passage will be deployed to ensure as many pieces of legislation can be progressed as possible.  However, what impact COVID has on the legislative programme is still to be determined. 

One thing is for sure, with the return of the Assembly, it is likely MLAs will be sent home with plenty of homework.