Stormont’s committee system appears to still have no plans for urgent summer hearings to explore the implications of Brexit – despite Stormont being the Northern Ireland region which was arguably least prepared for May’s Leave vote.
In Westminster, committees – including the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee – had been investigating the implications of a Brexit vote for months before the referendum, while in Dublin the Irish Government had a contingency plan for the UK voting to leave the EU, even though it did not expect that to happen.
By contrast, Stormont’s committees conducted no specific inquiries into what Brexit would mean for Northern Ireland in areas such as agriculture, trade and transport, even though the main party, the DUP, was arguing for the outcome which emerged from the referendum.
It is unclear whether the dispute at the top of the Executive – where Sinn Fein is still arguing that it can exempt Northern Ireland from Brexit because there was a Remain majority in the Province – is part of the reason for the sluggish response to May’s vote.
Stormont’s committees have significant powers to hold inquiries into their relevant areas. They can call witnesses, request papers and publish a report, something which could help to bring clarity in areas where there is currently a vacuum of information.
Several committees met immediately after the referendum, but have not continued to do so over the summer recess.
The News Letter asked the Assembly whether any Assembly committee has been or will be holding special hearings over the summer on the issue of Brexit.
An Assembly spokeswoman said: “A number of Assembly committees have already met and begun their consideration of the implications of the referendum vote in favour of the UK leaving the European Union.
“They have received briefings, sought papers, agreed to undertake further work and have commissioned research and advice.
“This work is currently being carried out and committees will be provided with further briefings and advice in September.
“Committees may still decide to meet before September should they consider this to be necessary.”
The TUV leader Jim Allister, who is a member of the important Finance Committee, said that it had not met at all over the summer,
He said: “At its last meeting there was vague mention of the implications of Brexit. I presume, if anything is to come of that, it will arise at the first meeting in September.”
The North Antrim MLA added: “Clearly some parties and MLAs are struggling to come to terms with the national and democratic decision to leave the EU.
“That does not mean the Assembly and its committees should not explore various ramifications of Brexit, but such must be in the context of accepting the democratic determination already made to leave.”