The Northern Ireland (Interim Arrangements) Bill would make provisions about governance and public finances in Northern Ireland in the ongoing absence of fully functioning devolved institutions. 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.
In response to this situation, the UK Parliament has already passed several pieces of legislation. These have extended until 18 January 2024 the time allowed for forming an executive before a new election must be held, clarified the arrangements for certain public functions to continue in the absence of an executive and set a budget for Northern Ireland.
An existing provision in one of these acts clarifying that senior Northern Ireland civil servants can exercise departmental functions in the public interest in the absence of Northern Ireland ministers is set to expire on 5 June 2023. The bill would extend this arrangement until the next executive is formed.
The bill would also give the secretary of state for Northern Ireland powers to direct Northern Ireland departments to provide advice or consult on options to raise revenue or deliver sustainable public finances in the ongoing absence of Northern Ireland ministers. There are concerns about the sustainability of Northern Ireland’s public finances, highlighted by a shortfall of £297mn to be repaid to the Treasury to cover spending in the 2022/23 financial year.
The bill would also require certain accounts, reports and other financial documents to be laid before the UK Parliament when the Northern Ireland Assembly is not functioning. The bill contains four substantive clauses.
The government has asked Parliament to fast-track the passage of the bill. It completed all its stages in the House of Commons on 10 May 2023. It was not amended and passed both second reading and third reading without division. The House of Lords is due to consider the bill at second reading on 18 May 2023, with the remaining stages scheduled for 23 May 2023.
The government has published explanatory notes and a delegated powers memorandum alongside the bill.