Many community groups have not quite understood the legislative process in the past. You know, they’ve lobbied an MLA to propose a motion calling on such-and-such a Minister to do something. The Motion is passed, but several months down the line, whatever they wanted has not happened, and nearly everyone wonders why. Well it is kind of obvious to some of us. Unless there is a policy change by the Minister concerned, or it is actually a private member’s Bill that alters what is required to be done, nothing need be done following a mere motion in the School Debating Society.
However, yesterday, it was worse. Yesterday the DUP brought an amendment to the Sinn Féin Motion concerning the Police Ombudsman that called on the Minister of Justice to do something which he cannot do.
In the words of David Ford MLA, Justice Minister for Northern Ireland…
On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. I appreciate that it is probably not reasonable to ask you to define “permanently suspend” for me, but I wonder whether you could advise me what the constitutional significance is of a resolution of this House instructing a Minister to do something that is ultra vires?
Now, of course it is not up to the Speaker or his deputies to rule on this point, but it does illustrate the problem.
The motion as passed with amendments reads:
That this Assembly welcomes the Criminal Justice Inspection report into the Office of the Police Ombudsman; notes the damage caused to the office by the investigation of historic cases; and calls upon the Minister of Justice to permanently suspend any new historic investigations by the Office of the Police Ombudsman and bring forward proposals to create public and police confidence in the ombudsman’s office, including independent oversight.
Anyone wanting to read the full ‘debate’ can read it here.