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What is government policy?

Northern Ireland’s ‘devolved’ government means that more decisions are taken by our own elected politicians. This page explains how government policy works, so you can get involved and use it to your advantage.

What is policy?

The term ‘government policy’ can be used to describe any course of action which intends to change a certain situation. Think of policies as a starting point for government to take a course of action that makes a real life change.

Government uses policy to tackle a wide range of issues. In fact, it can make policies that could change how much tax you pay, parking fines, immigration laws and pensions.

Law can also be changed by government, so when they create a policy it can be made to affect specific groups of people or everyone in our society.

Government departments (such as education or finance), agencies (like Land and Property Services or the Housing Executive) and councils all make policies that affect our lives. These policies can be influenced in many ways:

  • political parties or individual politicians
  • lobbying decision makers in government
  • voluntary organisations
  • community groups
  • public opinion
  • public consultations
  • the media

Northern Ireland can also be affected by policies which come from the United Kingdom government and the European Union. Take for example the way UK policy has changed anti-terrorism laws across the whole country or how the European Union sets targets to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

How to influence policy

Policy making is the process of changing an idea into an action. These ‘ideas’ can come from many different places, for example:

  • government
  • ministers
  • politicians
  • councillors
  • civil servants
  • society
  • voluntary organisations
  • community groups
  • trade unions
  • professionals, such as doctors and academics
  • public opinion
  • people like you

The list of people involved in shaping policy ideas is almost endless, but unless you start taking part, your views will never make a difference. One of the best ways to be heard is by responding to a formal public consultation.

Consultation is a great way for everyone to have a direct say in the policy making process.

Policy making and you

The devolved government of Northern Ireland is also part of a much larger group, which includes both the United Kingdom and European Union.

This means that several different avenues are available to you for the purposes of influencing policies that can change your life or community for the better.

You will probably find that the best results in influencing policy development will be as part of a voluntary organisation or community group. However, first you need to know how all these different government structures work together and then find the politicians that can best represent your interests.

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