The bill is seen as an important first step to restoring devolution to Northern Ireland.
With the absence of a Northern Ireland Executive since its collapse January 2017, it has been up to civil servants to step in and make the decisions that keep the region running.
However, a controversial decision in July 2017 to approve a new incinerator in County Antrim led to an environmental group successfully changing the legality of the decision when they stated civil servants did not have the powers to make those decisions in the absence of an Executive.
A new bill, passed in government today, will enhance the decision making powers of civil servants, to offer more flexible decision making to prevent policy paralysis in Northern Ireland.
The Northern Ireland Ministerial Appointments and Exercise of Departmental Functions Bill bill clarifies that senior civil servants may exercise departmental functions if they are in the public interest, with the exception of large commitments to public expenditure or policy changes - which must be left for ministers to decide or agree.
To further unblock the logjam of decision making in Norther Ireland, the bill will enable UK government ministers to make public appointments in:
- The Northern Ireland Judicial Appointments Commission
- Northern Ireland Policing Board
- The Probation Board
- The Police Ombudsman
While this isn't the much-needed final solution to reinstating the Northern Ireland executive, it is a positive step in the right direction, with clarity over where civil servants can step in to keep things moving, and where ministers need to call the shots.