The House of Lords is scheduled to debate all stages of the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation and Organ and Tissue Donation) Bill on 27 February 2023.
Northern Ireland has been without a fully functioning executive since February 2022 following the collapse of power-sharing over the Democratic Unionist Party’s objections to the Northern Ireland Protocol. A Northern Ireland Assembly election took place in May 2022. The statutory period for forming a new executive after the election passed with no executive being formed. The deadline for doing so of 27 October 2022 was extended to 19 January 2023 using powers in the Northern Ireland Executive Formation Act 2022. As this date also passed without the formation of a new executive, the secretary of state for Northern Ireland is currently under a statutory duty to set a date for another election to the Assembly, to take place on or before 13 April 2023.
The government has assessed that an immediate election would not support the restoration of the devolved institutions. The Northern Ireland (Executive Formation and Organ and Tissue Donation) Bill would therefore retrospectively extend the deadline for forming an executive from 19 January 2023 to 18 January 2024. It would also allow the secretary of state to set an Assembly election date earlier than this if no executive had yet been formed.
There was cross-party support in the House of Commons for these provisions. The government intends that the extension will create time and space for negotiations between the UK and the EU on the operation and application of the Northern Ireland Protocol. There has been heightened anticipation recently that the government is on the verge of announcing it has reached a deal with the EU, but at the time of writing this briefing, negotiations were still ongoing.
The bill was amended in the House of Commons to allow regulations to be made in the absence of a functioning Northern Ireland Assembly about organ donation in Northern Ireland. The Assembly passed legislation in February 2022, known as ‘Dáithí’s law’, that would see Northern Ireland move to a ‘deemed consent’ system of organ donation. Similar legislation already applies in the rest of the UK. However, the Northern Ireland system cannot come into operation until regulations have been passed specifying which organs are covered by deemed consent. These regulations would normally require the approval of the Northern Ireland Assembly. The bill would change the procedure required, so the Northern Ireland Department of Health could make them without needing approval from the Assembly. All MPs who spoke in the House of Commons debate supported these amendments.