SDLP Propose Return To Govt Without Petition Of Concern

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood is seeking support for a proposal to get the powersharing institutions at Stormont up and running again by suspending the petition of concern for the remainder of the current Assembly term.

Northern Ireland has been without Ministerial guidance since January 2017, when Sinn Fein and the DUP split in a bitter row.

The petition of concern is a mechanism which means that any vote taken by the Assembly can be made dependent on cross-community support. If the measure is activated, by submitting a petition to the speaker, proposed legislation can only pass if it is supported by a weighted majority (60%) of voters, including at least 40% of each of the nationalist and unionist delegations.

In effect, the political measure means that if enough MLAs agree, a community can veto a decision.

Mr Eastwood's proposal, announced in a press conference at Stormont yesterday, would involve a review of the petition to protect minority rights and prevent abuse of the system moving forward.

He claimed the plan could "create space to get politicians back to work". It comes in the wake of the murder of journalist Lyra McKee which prompted public demands for political leaders to reconvene at Stormont.
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The Foyle MLA said: "The death of Lyra McKee must be a turning point. We must listen to the public and act.

"There is a simple truth to be faced - politics here has failed. That truth means it is our responsibility as political leaders to fix it. We have been casual with our peace and we have forgotten our primary purpose.

"Today, the SDLP is proposing the suspension of the Petition of Concern mechanism for the remainder of this Assembly in order to legislate for rights and for all of our futures through the democratic mandate handed to us by the people of Northern Ireland. We are also proposing that while the temporary suspension takes place, a meaningful review of the POC is conducted with experts to find agreement on how to protect rights and stop any future abuse of the mechanism. The SDLP has the legislation ready to bring progress and equality - we can begin to enact it on the Assembly's very first day back.

"This proposal threatens no one. It is about creating the space to get parties back into Stormont to take decisions affecting all of our lives. It is clear there is an Assembly majority to resolve the outstanding issues if we remove the veto. We need to bring our people back together, we need to bring our government back together. This is a time for leadership, for courage and for compromise."


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