Politics of Northern Ireland

This article is part of a series on the
politics and government of
Northern Ireland

Since 1998, Northern Ireland has devolved government within the United Kingdom. The government and Parliament of the United Kingdom are responsible for reserved and excepted matters. Reserved matters are a list of policy areas (such as civil aviation, units of measurement, and human genetics), which the Westminster Parliament may devolve to the Northern Ireland Assembly at some time in future. Excepted matters (such as international relations, taxation and elections) are never expected to be considered for devolution. On all other matters, the Northern Ireland Executive together with the 90-member Northern Ireland Assembly may legislate and govern for Northern Ireland. Additionally, devolution in Northern Ireland is dependent upon participation by members of the Northern Ireland Executive in the North/South Ministerial Council, which co-ordinates areas of co-operation (such as agriculture, education and health) between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

Parliament Buildings at Stormont, Belfast, seat of the assembly

Elections to the Northern Ireland Assembly are by single transferable vote with five representatives (Members of the Legislative Assembly, MLAs) elected from 18 parliamentary constituencies. Eighteen representatives to the lower house of the British parliament (Members of Parliament, MPs) are elected from the same constituencies using the first-past-the-post system. However, not all of these take their seats. The seven Sinn Féin MPs refuse to take the required oath to serve Queen Elizabeth II. In addition, the upper house of the UK's parliament, the House of Lords, currently has some 25 appointed members from Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland itself forms a single constituency for elections to the European Union.

The Northern Ireland Office represents the British government in Northern Ireland on reserved matters. The Government of the Republic of Ireland also has the right to "put forward views and proposals" on non-devolved matters in relation to Northern Ireland. The Northern Ireland Office is led by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, who sits in the Cabinet of the United Kingdom.

Much of the population of Northern Ireland identifies with one of two different ideologies: unionism (which wants the region to remain part of the United Kingdom) and Irish nationalism (which wants a united Ireland). Unionists are predominantly Ulster Protestant, most of whom belong to the Presbyterian Church in Ireland and the Church of Ireland. Irish nationalists are almost wholly Roman Catholic. There is also a tiny minority of Ulster nationalists (those who want an independent Northern Irish state), whose religious convictions vary.

Political representation

Northern Ireland currently has the following political representation:

Voting patterns

Voting patterns break down as follows:

Shows the percentage of votes, or first preference votes, cast for unionist, nationalist and other candidates in elections in Northern Ireland.
Shows the proportion of seats obtained at each election to the Northern Ireland Assembly by those members designated as unionist, those members designated as nationalist and those members designated as other.
Results in Northern Ireland from UK general elections

Electoral systems

In all elections in Northern Ireland the single transferable vote system of proportional representation is used except for the House of Commons elections where a "first past the post" or plurality voting system is used.

Proposed representation in the Republic

Sinn Féin, currently the biggest of the nationalist parties in Northern Ireland, has campaigned for a broadening of the franchise of Northern Ireland voters to allow them to vote in elections to choose the President of Ireland. It has also demanded that all Northern Ireland Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) and MPs be allowed speaking rights in the lower house of the parliament of the Republic of Ireland, Dáil Éireann. It was given to understand that the Irish government accepted this and had plans to introduce legislation in the autumn of 2005.[2] The Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) backed the move. However, a spokesman for Taoiseach Bertie Ahern later rowed back, stating that it had never been intended that the MPs have a right to attend plenary sessions of the Dáil, but that they would be invited to participate in Oireachtas committees dealing with Northern Ireland matters, and only if there was all-party agreement behind it. The unionist parties, along with Fine Gael, Labour and the Progressive Democrats have all declared their opposition to the move, as has much of the Irish media, with articles highly critical of the proposal published in The Irish Times and the Sunday Independent.[3][4] Nonetheless on 22 November 2007, representatives from both Sinn Féin and the SDLP, (unionists declined the invitation) attended a meeting of the Oireachtas committee reviewing the workings of the Good Friday Agreement. The 18 Northern Ireland MPs can take part in this committee's debates (as well as other relevant committees by invitation), but will not have a right to vote or to move motions and amendments.[5]