Farry says petition of concern mechanism needs reformed

Alliance MLA Stephen Farry has said reform of the petition of concern mechanism is needed more than ever after it was revealed it was used over 100 times in the last Assembly mandate.

The veto is designed to prevent discrimination against minority communities, however, it has now been disclosed it was used 115 times during the last term on 31 separate proposed Bills, including on marriage equality, welfare reform and attempted disciplining of MLAs.

One of Alliance’s proposals to the DUP and Sinn Fein before accepting the Justice Ministry earlier this year was a significant reform of the petition of concern mechanism, a request those two parties rejected.

“Alliance knows abuse of the Petition of Concern mechanism is one of the major issues causing a lack of public confidence in Stormont,” said Dr Farry.

“The electorate voted to give DUP 38 seats out of 108 and that should be respected. But they did not vote to give them the equivalent of 55 seats out of 108 and the ability to block anything they dislike despite an actual majority of MLAs thinking to the contrary. Yet, this is what the abuse of the Petition of Concern grants to them.

“For example, the last time the issue of equal marriage was debated at the Assembly, it was only defeated by the DUP’s use of a petition of concern. When the matter comes before MLAs again, I believe a majority will back it. Therefore, the only thing blocking it is that veto.

“Recently, the Assembly Commissioner for Standards said he wanted to see a ban on their use stopping complaints against MLAs to prevent any potential abuse of the process and boost public confidence.

“What is clear is what Alliance suggested needs to happen – a limit of petitions of concern to what they were originally intended for – protection of minorities, matters of national identity, the legacy of the conflict and the constitutional structure and institutions. Not to be abused and used to protect parties’ selfish interests.”

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