Page last updated at 15:15 GMT, Monday, 10 December 2012

Review on reducing government departments

A Stormont committee tentatively backed the creation of a new Department for the Economy, on 10 December 2012.

A report from the Assembly and Executive Review Committee said there was broad support for several new departments.

These included a Department of the Economy; a new combined Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Development; and a new Department of Urban and Social Development/ Department of Communities/Department of Communities and Social Welfare/Department of Community, Housing and Local Government.

The committee also called for the reform of the Office of the First and Deputy First Minister.

Its members said the current departments of health, justice and education should remain untouched.

However, the committee members stressed that the suggestions should not be taken as a set of recommendations as there were other potential ways to re-organise the Stormont administration.

Despite all five main parties backing the report, Sinn Fein faced criticism from both the DUP and the SDLP amid accusations that it had not properly engaged with the committee's work.

DUP East Londonderry MLA Gregory Campbell said it was an important committee which had met around 23 times.

The committee members, he said, were asked to put forward their proposals but "time after time after time, one party didn't - Sinn Fein."

'Frustrating process'

He said that while no party was seriously suggesting retaining the status quo of 12 departments, Sinn Fein had failed to say how many it did want and had also been "incapable" of spelling out how many MLAs it thought there should be.

Mr Campbell's party colleague, Lagan Valley MLA Paul Givan, said it had been a "frustrating process" with Sinn Fein apparently suffering from a "paranoia about a hidden hand intent on diluting equality".

SDLP South Belfast MLA Conall McDevitt accused Sinn Fein of undermining the credibility of the process by failing to engage. He said that while his party was not involved in a "numbers game", it believed that it could commit to a process of reviewing government structures while maintaining the "protections of the Good Friday Agreement."

Sinn Fein South Down MLA Caitriona Ruane accused the SDLP and UUP of sending out mixed messages over whether to go into opposition.

"It's time for them to make up their mind," she said.

Ms Ruane stressed that her party understood there was work to be done, was open to all proposals and would continue to be active members of the committee.

A motion to approve the committee's work was passed by acclamation.

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