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New departmental structure comes of age in Northern Ireland

Words: Roger Milne

The Northern Ireland Assembly met for the first time this week since the election to elect first and deputy first ministers.

Democratic Unionist Party leader Arlene Foster and Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness will lead the new power-sharing administration after last week’s poll saw their parties returned as the largest in the devolved Stormont legislature.

They will have two weeks to produce a programme for government and name a new ministerial Northern Ireland Executive to oversee a new departmental setup (now in force). This has seen the demise of the Department of the Environment (DoE), which used to be responsible for planning and local government.

The number of departments has been reduced from 12 to nine and some functions and services have been restructured.

The new Department for Communities (DfC) will take on the local government functions exercised by DoE, including most planning policy matters. It will also take on built heritage issues from the NI Environment Agency and it will subsume the urban regeneration functions once exercised by the Department for Social Development, which has now disappeared.

However, responsibility for strategic planning now passes to the new Department for Infrastructure (DfI). The new Department of Justice (DoJ) has taken over responsibility for the Planning Appeals Commission. Rural development issues will be a matter for the new Department of Agriculture, Environment & Rural Affairs (DAERA).

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