The Speaker of the Assembly has told MLAs they could be facing late nights and additional sitting days amid a push to get legislation passed before the end of the mandate.
Alex Maskey has written to Members updating them on efforts to progress outstanding Bills through the legislature before it dissolves ahead of the election.
He said the situation has been created by the “unique circumstances” of the mandate – a reference to the time lost as a result of the three-year powersharing impasse.
The mandate is currently due to expire at the end of March ahead of an anticipated Assembly election in early May.
Mr Maskey had previously written to MLAs in October highlighting the significant challenges there would be in getting outstanding Bills passed in time.
He said “significant progress” has been made since then, with committees having devoted additional time to scrutinising draft legislation.
“However, with approximately 10 weeks remaining before the Assembly is dissolved for the election, this was always going to be the most crucial and intense period,” he added.
Mr Maskey said any Bill that does not emerge from committee stage within the next few weeks has “little realistic chance of completing its passage”.
The Speaker said there is also a likelihood that some new Bills will be tabled by ministers and Members, and that, in those instances, committees will have to decide whether there is time for them to carry out their scrutiny function.
Mr Maskey continued: “There will be pressure points when there will be competing demands for plenary time in any given week.”
He said he will be working with Assembly officials and the Business Committee to make the best use of plenary time and ensure Bills are dealt with as fairly as possible.
He said decisions on scheduling Private Members’ Bills (PMBs) will depend on how advanced they are and when they were first tabled.
The Speaker said the Business Committee will make a further assessment at the end of January as to whether additional sitting days would be useful.
The Assembly currently sits on Mondays and Tuesdays.
“There will often be little flexibility and I advise Members who are the sponsors of the PMBs that they are likely to have to accept any scheduling slot which is offered to them,” wrote Mr Maskey.
“I want to acknowledge the significant efforts which Members and staff have made in recent months and which will continue to be required for a number of further weeks.
“I appreciate that there may be late and additional sittings and other pressures in the time ahead which will often be inconvenient.
“As I have outlined previously, the situation we are in is largely a product of the unique circumstances of this mandate which have resulted in a greater number of Executive Bills and PMBs being in the system at this point.”
He said the draft legislation still in the system covers a wide range of issues which are important to different parts of the community.
“Therefore, while there will be pressures to manage, it is vital that the Assembly is able to properly consider and scrutinise as many Bills as possible to ensure that any legislation passed is fit for purpose and has the desired impact for the people we all represent,” he said.
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