Northern Ireland Office

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Northern Ireland Office
Northern Ireland Office logo.svg
Stormont House.jpg
Department overview
Formed24 March 1972
Preceding Department
Jurisdiction Northern Ireland
  • Northern Ireland
  • Westminster
    • 1 Horse Guards Road, London, SW1A 2HQ
Employees167 (September 2011) [1]
Annual budget£23 million for 2011–12 [2]
Minister responsible
Department executive

The Northern Ireland Office (NIO; Irish : Oifig Thuaisceart Éireann, [3] Ulster-Scots: Norlin Airlann Oaffis) [4] 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. [5] The department has responsibility for:

It also represents Northern Irish interests at UK government level and the interests of the UK Government in Northern Ireland. [6]

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. [7]

In the Irish Government, the NIO's main counterparts are:


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. [13] In August 1969, for example, Home Secretary James Callaghan approved the sending of British Army soldiers to Northern Ireland. [14]

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. [15]

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. [16]

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.

Current ministers

The NIO ministers are as follows: [17] [18]

The Rt Hon. Brandon Lewis MP Secretary of State Overall responsibility; Political stability and relations with the Northern Ireland Executive; National security and counter-terrorism; Implementation of the Stormont House and Fresh Start Agreements, including legacy of the past; Representing Northern Ireland in the Cabinet on EU exit, including new economic opportunities; International interest in Northern Ireland, including relations with the Irish government.
Hon. Robin Walker MP Minister of State Driving Economic and Domestic Policy; Long-term economic recovery from COVID-19; Promotion of the economy, levelling up and innovation - including City Deals and the Shared Prosperity Fund; Leading the department's work on the most critical constitution and rights issues in NI.

Supporting the Secretary of State in his responsibilities, including: Legacy stakeholder engagement; Strengthening and sustaining the Union in Northern Ireland; Vital security casework; Building substantive relationships across sectors and communities; Leading workstreams on New Decade, New Approach Agreement; and the NI Protocol

As Attorney General for England and Wales, The Rt Hon. Suella Braverman MP is Advocate General for Northern Ireland, advising the UK Government on Northern Ireland law.

Secretaries of State for Northern Ireland

The Department is led by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

Ministers of State for Northern Ireland

Parliamentary Under-Secretaries of State for Northern Ireland

Permanent Secretary

The senior civil servant in the NIO is Madeleine Alessandri, who replaced Sir Jonathan Stephens in February 2020. She was formerly the Prime Minister's Adviser on National Resilience and Security.

See also

Related Research Articles

The Troubles 1960s–1998 ethno-nationalist conflict in Northern Ireland

The Troubles were an ethno-nationalist period of conflict in Northern Ireland that lasted about 30 years from the late 1960s to the late 1990s. Also known internationally as the Northern Ireland conflict, it is sometimes described as an "irregular war" or "low-level war". The conflict began in the late 1960s and is usually deemed to have ended with the Good Friday Agreement of 1998. Although the Troubles mostly took place in Northern Ireland, at times the violence spilled over into parts of the Republic of Ireland, England, and mainland Europe.

Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

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History of Northern Ireland From around 1920 to the present, concerning one of the constituent entities of the UK

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Flag of Northern Ireland National flag

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Unionism in Ireland Political ideology advocating UK sovereignty over Northern Ireland

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Northern Ireland Assembly Legislature of Northern Ireland

The Northern Ireland Assembly, often referred to by the metonym Stormont, is the devolved legislature of Northern Ireland. It has power to legislate in a wide range of areas that are not explicitly reserved to the Parliament of the United Kingdom, and to appoint the Northern Ireland Executive. It sits at Parliament Buildings at Stormont in Belfast. The Assembly was in a period of suspension until January 2020, after it collapsed in January 2017 due to policy disagreements between its power-sharing leadership, particularly following the Renewable Heat Incentive scandal. In January 2020, the British and Irish governments agreed on a deal to restore devolved government in Northern Ireland.

Northern Ireland Executive Devolved government of Northern Ireland

The Northern Ireland Executive is the devolved government of Northern Ireland, an administrative branch of the legislature – the Northern Ireland Assembly. It is answerable to the assembly and was initially established according to the terms of the Northern Ireland Act 1998, which followed the Good Friday Agreement. The executive is referred to in the legislation as the Executive Committee of the assembly and is an example of consociationalist ("power-sharing") government.

The Sunningdale Agreement was an attempt to establish a power-sharing Northern Ireland Executive and a cross-border Council of Ireland. The agreement was signed at Sunningdale Park located in Sunningdale, Berkshire, on 9 December 1973. Unionist opposition, violence and general strike caused the collapse of the agreement in May 1974.

Stormont Castle

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Northern Ireland Constitutional Convention

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Department for Communities

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Department of Education (Northern Ireland)

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Northern Ireland Civil Service

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Executive Office (Northern Ireland) devolved Northern Ireland government department

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Department of Justice (Northern Ireland)

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