Page last updated at 15:32 GMT, Tuesday, 20 July 2010 16:32 UK
Guide to the Northern Ireland Assembly

The first sitting of the devolved Northern Ireland Assembly
The first sitting of the current Northern Ireland Assembly

The primary responsibility of the 108 MLAs during their four-year term is to the Assembly.

While that may seem obvious, for an Assembly which has been mothballed for much of its existence, the commitment of parties to the power-sharing structure is paramount.

This aspect of the Stormont government means that, with an irony that is painful to some, MLAs must work and compromise with members of other parties more than in the past, or jeopardise the effectiveness of the Assembly.

The most publicly visible MLA work occurs in the chamber during the plenary (full) sessions which take place on Mondays and Tuesdays, when members are expected to speak on, vote on, and suggest motions and questions for debate.

They have the power to suggest Private Members' Motions, which essentially offer an opinion for debate and they can table Private Member Bills, which give MLAs the opportunity to try to introduce and pass legislation.

Since 2007, two Private Member Bills have been passed at Second Stage and are due to work through the legislative process in 2010.

The reputation of the Assembly as a mere "talking shop", was diminished in 2009-10 when government legislation as a proportion of business increased, resulting in the passing of 13 out of 38 proceeding bills.

Scrutinise and amend

An MLA can be a member of any of the 11 departmental, six standing and numerous ad hoc committees .

Through executive committees, MLAs scrutinise ministerial and departmental decisions, suggest, inspect and amend new draft legislation and conduct inquiries with expert witnesses and write committee reports.

When legislation is going through the Assembly, MLAs in committee scrutinise and revise the detail and suggest amendments, taking over the function performed by the House of Lords in relation to Northern Ireland legislation during direct rule .

MLAs receive £43,101, or approximately 75% of an MP's salary. They are paid the largest amount per constituent of any UK parliamentary member - £2.62, compared to 62p per constituent for an MP.

A report by the Senior Salaries Review Body (SSRB) in 2008 said MLAs should receive 75% of an MP's salary because their law-making powers "are relatively restricted and are not being used to the full".

MLAs have an allowance of £72,000 per year to hire staff and rent office space.

Many Northern Ireland MPs have given up working as an MLA as well, after much criticism of the practice of dual mandates , or "double-jobbing".

The Northern Ireland Assembly Members Bill - which stipulates that politicians elected to Westminster and Stormont should only receive an MP's salary - is expected to act as a catalyst to end dual mandates for good.

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