Another step forward in the reform of Stormont

Stormont, the organisation of which is being reformed
Stormont, the organisation of which is being reformed

Today, the Assembly will debate and vote on a bill to reduce the number of government departments in Northern Ireland.

The proposals would result in the current twelve government departments being reduced to nine. All existing functions of government will continue and no policies will be scrapped.

Gordon Lyons MLA

Gordon Lyons MLA

In this regard the public will not see any difference in the way that services are provided however they will be delivered in a more cost effective and efficient way.

A reduction in government departments will result in a reduction in the number of ministers, special advisers and ministerial private offices.

Importantly, it will not only save money but it will also make government much more efficient. Functions will be transferred among departments to ensure that they are more closely aligned.

For example, the newly created Department for Infrastructure will incorporate functions that were previously divided up among five different government departments.

One of its responsibilities will be dealing with flooding, an issue which previously was in different ways the under the remit of the Department of the Environment, the Department of Regional Development, the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development and the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure.

What a mess and what confusion! This should never have been the case in the first place.

Of course it all came about as a result of the Belfast Agreement. The UUP and SDLP nearly doubled the number of government departments, creating the maximum number permitted under legislation.

This may have been of party political benefit to them at that time, but it was not good for government in Northern Ireland.

For our part, my party has been consistent in our criticism of the unnecessarily large size and cost of government here.

We have led the way in calling for a reduction in both the number of government departments and the number of MLAs, which were determined in 1998 by political considerations rather than by what was in the best interests of Northern Ireland.

Rather than just snipe from the sidelines but not change anything we continued to make the case for reform and convinced others of the merits of our argument. As a consequence we have been successful in getting the necessary agreement that will result in this reduction in government departments after the election in May.

In addition, we have also secured agreement that the number of MLAs will be reduced from 108 to 90 at the following election. Whilst my party wanted it reduced to 72 MLAs by next yea the other parties wild not agree to this.

We accept that reducing to 90 is a step in the right direction and maybe some day in the future the other parties will see the merits of our arguments.

Stormont is far from perfect. It was not in good shape when we took on the leadership of unionism.

But the DUP have taken the necessary steps to ensure that reform is taking place and that reform will continue. This is all part of the progress towards the more normal system of Government that people in Northern Ireland deserve.

Step by step we are normalising the structures of government.

• Gordon Lyons is a DUP MLA for East Antrim