2015 Introduction Currently Northern Ireland is in the midst of a significant change in the structures of local and central government and there is considerable fluidity in the development of the associated policy and strategic frameworks. Both will directly impact upon how museum services operate, what outcomes will be expected of them and how their impact will be assessed.
In 2015 the new framework for local councils in Northern Ireland became operational, which saw 11 councils established, nine of whom are delivering a museum services. All of the new councils are now embarked upon developing corporate plans which will set out their strategies and priorities in service delivery.
Following the Stormont House Agreement, by April 2016 the 12 principal Departments within central government will reduce to 9, with the Department of Communities becoming the main conduit for policy relating to museums. It will be notably large, and will combine the existing functions of the Department of Social Development with most of the DCAL functions (except for inland fisheries and waterways), take over the Department of Employment and Learning’s Employment Service and the Department of the Environment’s responsibilities for Local Government and Built Heritage. In addition, this Department will assume a range of OFMDFM delivery and operational functions in relation to the Social Investment Fund, racial equality, United Communities and Good Relations, disability and poverty, gender and sexual orientation, and North West sites and strategy.
This new structure will be in place prior to the elections to the Northern Ireland Assembly scheduled for May 2016, and the subsequent establishment of the new Executive and appointment of Ministers. Shortly after the election a new Programme for Government will be completed.
At present OFMDFM is undertaking some initial work on this Programme, with the main emerging themes being the economy, health services and community issues in their widest forms. It seems as if there will be an emphasis upon developing priority outcomes and impacts, rather than presenting a list of actions, and an aspiration is to build a joined-up programme that will cover all of government, local as well as central.
Given the current policy preference towards museums delivering on the social and community agendas, it would be easy to overlook their continuing contribution to economic well-being. This aspect is emerging as a priority for most of the new councils particularly in respect of local tourism development and NIMC wants to ensure that museums individually and as a sector are well-placed to demonstrate their valuable contribution to the economy.