Northern Ireland Office
|Formed||24 March 1972|
|Employees||167 (September 2011)|
|Annual budget||£23 million for 2011–12|
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The Northern Ireland Office (NIO; Irish: Oifig Thuaisceart Éireann, Ulster-Scots: Norlin Airlann Oaffis) is a UK Government department responsible for Northern Ireland affairs. The NIO is led by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and is based at Stormont House in Belfast and 1 Horse Guards Road in London.
The NIO's role is to "maintain and support" the devolution settlement resulting from the Good Friday Agreement and St Andrews Agreement and the devolution of criminal justice and policing to the Northern Ireland Assembly. The department has responsibility for:
- electoral law
- human rights and equality
- national security in Northern Ireland
- the British government's approach to the legacy of the Troubles
It also represents Northern Irish interests at UK government level and the interests of the UK Government in Northern Ireland.
The Northern Ireland Office has a close working relationship with the Irish government as a co-guarantor of the peace process; this includes the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference and its joint secretariat.
In the Irish Government, the NIO's main counterparts are:
- the Department of Foreign Affairs (on the peace process);
- the Department of the Taoiseach (supporting the role of the Taoiseach in the peace process);
- the Department of Justice and Equality (on national security matters and the legacy of the Troubles);
- the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government (on electoral law).
Before partition, Ireland was governed through the Dublin Castle administration and the Home Office was also responsible for Irish affairs. From 1924 to 1972, Northern Ireland affairs were handled by the Northern Ireland Department of the Home Office. In August 1969, for example, Home Secretary James Callaghan approved the sending of British Army soldiers to Northern Ireland.
As the Troubles worsened, the UK Government was increasingly concerned that the Northern Ireland Government (at Stormont) was losing control of the situation. On 24 March 1972, it announced that direct rule from Westminster would be introduced. This took effect on 30 March 1972.
The formation of the NIO put Northern Ireland on the same level as Scotland and Wales, where the Scottish Office and Welsh Office were established in 1885 and 1965 respectively. The NIO assumed policing and justice powers from the Ministry of Home Affairs. NIO junior ministers were placed in charge of other Northern Ireland Civil Service departments.
Direct rule was seen as a temporary measure, with a power-sharing devolution preferred as the solution. Under the Northern Ireland (Temporary Provisions) Act 1972, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland replaced the Governor of Northern Ireland and direct rule was annually renewed by a vote in Parliament.
The Sunningdale Agreement in 1973 resulted in a brief, power-sharing Northern Ireland Executive, which was ended by the Ulster Workers' Council strike on 28 May 1974. The Northern Ireland Constitutional Convention (1975–1976) and Northern Ireland Assembly (1982–1986) were unsuccessful in restoring devolved government. After the Anglo-Irish Agreement on 15 November 1985, the UK Government and Irish Government co-operated more closely on security and political matters.
Following the Belfast Agreement (also known as the Good Friday Agreement) on 10 April 1998, devolution returned to Northern Ireland on 2 December 1999. The Northern Ireland Executive was suspended on 15 October 2002 and direct rule returned until devolution was restored on 8 May 2007.
The devolution of policing and justice powers on 12 April 2010 transferred many of the NIO's previous responsibilities to the Northern Ireland Assembly and its devolved government, the Northern Ireland Executive. The Department of Justice is now responsible for those matters. This transfer of power resulted in a smaller Northern Ireland Office, comparable to the Scotland Office and Wales Office.
|The Rt Hon. Julian Smith MP||Secretary of State||Overall responsibility, relationships with the Executive and Assembly, national security, the legacy of the Troubles|
|The Rt Hon. Nick Hurd MP||Minister of State for Northern Ireland||EU Exit, Security-related issues and casework, Legacy stakeholder management, Parliamentary liaison with Northern Ireland MPs the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, and other interested parliamentarians|
|Robin Walker MP||Minister of State
(jointly with the Scotland Office)
|Lord Duncan of Springbank||Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland||Engagement to community groups, electoral services, armed forces covenant, human rights and equality, and parliamentary liaison with peers|
The NIO's Director General was Sir Julian King KCVO CMG. He was appointed in November 2011 and held the position until 2014. He chaired the NIO Management Board and is the department's Accounting Officer.
- Northern Ireland Affairs Committee
- Northern Ireland Assembly
- Northern Ireland Executive
- Department of Justice
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