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Petition of Concern leaves over 100,000 voters with no voice

Petition of Concern leaves over 100,000 voters with no voice

Tuesday 04 April 2017

The Green Party has submitted proposals for the reform of the controversial Petition of Concern claiming that it leaves over 100,000 voters with no voice when a cross community vote is required.

A cross community vote can be triggered by 30 MLAs signing a Petition of Concern meaning that a majority of unionist and a majority of nationalists must support a motion for it to be passed.  Of the 90 MLAs currently in the Assembly, 11 do not designate as either identity and are deemed “other”, therefore their vote does not count towards the total nationalist or unionist vote.

In a written submission to the Secretary of State and other parties, the Green Party has made a strong case for fundamental reform of the Petition of Concern and the underlying system of community designation at the Assembly.

Green Party leader Steven Agnew said: “Under the current system, MLAs who designate as “other” are disadvantaged as their votes do not count in a cross community vote. 

“This creates two tiers of MLAs and punishes those parties which are cross community, denying their voters full representation. 

“In the last election, 105,344 first preference votes were given to parties who did not designate.

“These votes have essentially been wiped out when it comes to key votes in the Assembly such as the budget, election of the Speaker or when a valid Petition of Concern is tabled”.

The North Down MLA added:

“There is a clear democratic deficit in this instance. The Petition of Concern was designed to protect minority parties but the reality is that, alongside community designation, it fosters sectarian politics and division”.

The Green Party has proposed that the practice of community designation comes to an end, to be replaced with a weighted majority of MLAs two-thirds (60) would have to be in favour for a motion to be passed.  This would mean all MLAs votes would count equally.

A Petition of Concern, in this case, could still be deployed by the signatures of 30 MLAs.

The Green Party would also support limiting the remit of Petitions of Concern to matters of national identity, legacy issues and matters relating to the constitution, in line with the intended use as envisaged at the time of the Good Friday Agreement.

The party states that there should be an element of independent arbitration to decide whether an issue falls under this remit, and therefore would propose the creation of a three-person panel to decide, on a case-by-case basis where required, whether an issue falls under this category.

ENDS

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