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Why MLAs need to take a long hard look at the length of their holidays

By Noel McAdam and David Gordon

Northern Ireland’s 108 Assembly Members have come under fire for taking a nine-week break amid fears the economy is tipping deeper into crisis.

Now more than half-way through their summer sojourn, the Assembly has been urged to look again at the need for a two-month gap, as the threat of a double-dip recession looms.

While many MLAs continue to travel to Parliament Buildings on constituency and party business, there have been no meetings of the Assembly since July 5.

And they are not due to return until September 6 — and then only for committee sessions, with the first full plenary session of the new season pencilled in for Monday, September 13.

That means for more than two months MLAs have no opportunity to work through the Assembly towards solutions to the current economic crisis or to lobby the UK Government for assistance for Northern Ireland.

Glyn Roberts, chief executive of the NI Independent Retail Trade Association, said: “Everybody is entitled to a holiday and it is also important to point out that constituency work is still going on and ministers continue to work in their departments.

“But it is time to look again, not just at Assembly level but at Westminster also, at the two to three-month break when they are not sitting.

“Particularly given the economic crisis, the Assembly should consider the fact that it is not sitting for so long and, following the devolution of policing and justice, the next important debate the Assembly needs to have is what fiscal powers it should take onto itself.

“The lack of fiscal and taxation powers has been highlighted by the recession,” Mr Roberts added.

And the Taypayers’ Alliance also warned the two-month gap must not be an “extended holiday”.

A spokesman for the self-appointed watchdog group said: “This two-month break shouldn’t be an extended holiday for |Assembly Members.

“It’s important that they use this time to tend to constituency matters and meet with their |electorate. At the moment there’s a pressing need for the Government to implement cuts, and so politicians can’t rest on their laurels over the recess period.”

But a statement from the Assembly said: “Although no Assembly debates are scheduled during the recess period, MLAs are busy in their constituency offices. The opportunity to spend time dealing with local issues is an important part of an MLA’s role and recess affords the opportunity for them to dedicate time to supporting their constituents on such matters.”

In their last session MLAs passed not only the Justice Bill which agreed the establishment of the Department of Justice, paving the way for the transfer of policing and justice powers, but 12 other pieces of legislation.

Assembly committees also published 35 reports, among them the inquiry into the dioxins contamination incident, an inquiry into obesity and the inquiry |into young people not in Employment, Education or Training.

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