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Northern Ireland (St Andrews Agreement) Act 2006

Section 6: Power to refer Ministerial decision to the Executive Committee

45.Section 6 inserts a new section 28B into the 1998 Act, to establish a new procedure by which a Ministerial decision may be referred to the Executive Committee for consideration.

46.This new section applies where thirty MLAs raise a petition of concern in the Assembly that a Ministerial decision may have been taken in contravention of the Ministerial Code or that it relates to a matter of public importance. The decision can only be referred to the Committee once under the provisions set out in this section.

47.New section 28B(3) of the 1998 Act places a duty on the Presiding Officer to refer the Ministerial decision to the Executive Committee for consideration, if he has first both consulted the parties and certified that the decision relates to a matter of public importance. These two conditions, along with the bar on repeat referrals, offer protection against the vexatious or malicious exercise of the referral power. Subsection (5) establishes a time limit on referrals and specifies that any referral to the Executive Committee under this section must be made within seven sitting days of the decision being taken, or, where appropriate, within seven sitting days of the day on which the decision was notified to the Assembly.

48.Subsection (4) of section 28B of the 1998 Act requires the Executive Committee to consider any referral under this section and then notify the Presiding Officer whether in its view the decision was taken in contravention of the Code, whether it relates to a significant or controversial matter and what, if any, action the Committee intends to take or has taken.

49.Section 28B does not specify what action the Committee can take. However, if it concluded that the decision was taken in breach of the Code, it could propose a motion (to be passed only with cross-community support) that any of the sanctions for breach of the pledge of office available under the 1998 Act be imposed upon the relevant Minister.

50.Subsection (6) specifies that the Committee must complete its consideration of any decision within seven sitting days of the referral.

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