Opinion: Concern over Northern Ireland Equal Marriage Petition of Concern

There is a mechanism in the Northern Ireland Assembly that is designed to protect minority interests. It is called a petition of concern. Any 30 MLAs can call for one on any issue up for debate.

What it means that instead of simple majority the motion for debate requires 60% of the chamber and 40% of both the Unionist and Nationalist designations.

You may ask why I have highlighted this at the top of this post. The answer is to do with a debate before the Assembly on Monday 1 October, a debate on Equal Marriage, a motion largely similar to our own party policy, except it is calling on the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister to come up with the details, including stringent protections for religious groups that don’t want to carry out same sex marriage.

So a motion aiming at bringing about something enhancing for a minority group is going to be subject to a petition of concern. What is more the minority group in question is one that has long work across the ‘traditional’ divides in Northern Ireland to fight for their own minority and its concerns.

The 30 moving this petition of concern all come from the DUP, the largest party in the Assembly, and the only party of the executive to have come out totally opposed to marriage equality.

This weekend members of the DUP will be celebrating the Ulster Covenant which sought to defend by any means necessary the cherished equal citizenship with in the UK for the people of Ulster. This petition of concern, plus their negative attitude to lifting the MSM blood ban and allowing adoption by gay and lesbian couples adds the caveat that they only cherish equality for the citizens of Ulster with the rest of the UK if they are straight.

The DUP have 68% of all the Unionist designated MLAs. Effectively their petition of concern if the vote on Monday is three line whipped by their party could defeat the motion even if the 60% majority was reached. A misappropriation of power, and certainly as described elsewhere in the Ulster Covenant a subversion of civil and religious freedom.

But surely in this case the cross community support should only require 40% of the straight MLAs and 40% of the LGBT ones.

For the record there are no openly LGBT MLAs currently in the Assembly.

If you are in Northern Ireland, or know anyone in Northern Ireland write or get them to write to all their MLAs, even those in the DUP. Ask them that if they are not content with the language of the motion, to abstain and work with the proposers and Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister to make it workable for all.

* Stephen Glenn is currently chair of Northern Ireland Liberal Democrats and a three-time Westminster candidate for the Liberal Democrats. He blogs at stephensliberaljournal.blogspot.com

Read more by or more about , or .
This entry was posted in Op-eds.

Post a Comment

Lib Dem Voice welcomes comments from everyone but we ask you to be polite, to be on topic and to be who you say you are. You can read our comments policy in full here. Please respect it and all readers of the site.

If you are a member of the party, you can have the Lib Dem Logo appear next to your comments to show this. You must be registered for our forum and can then login on this public site with the same username and password.

To have your photo next to your comment please signup your email address with Gravatar.

Your email is never published. Required fields are marked *

Please complete the name of this site, Liberal Democrat ...?


Recent Comments

  • User AvatarDavid Raw 21st Mar - 2:11pm
    @ Jennie sorry, Jennie lass.
  • User AvatarPeter Hirst 21st Mar - 2:11pm
    It seems anything goes as long as we leave the eu, thus fulfilling the will of the people. The government have got themselves in a...
  • User AvatarDavid Raw 21st Mar - 2:05pm
    Oh, dear. here we go again. John Marriott is completely right. The post from Mr Morrison is flawed from the start by including a statutory...
  • User AvatarLiberal 21st Mar - 1:43pm
    @Lorenzo The idea would be to streamline the system so we'd no longer be electing 2 sets of MPs - 1 for the Assembly and...
  • User AvatarSean Hyland 21st Mar - 1:41pm
    Bill le Breton I resigned my party membership when Charles Kennedy was forced to resign. I didn't agree with the direction the party was heading...
  • User AvatarWilliam Fowler 21st Mar - 1:13pm
    We already have two sets of MPs from Scotland and Wales, the idea that what the country needs is yet another layer of overpaid politicians...