This week the Northern Ireland Assembly proved that it is not only a profoundly undemocratic institution, but that is has institutionalised division.
When film emerged last year of Gerry Kelly dictating to police officers about what they should do and clinging to the front of a Land Rover when they failed to comply there was understandable anger within the unionist community.
As TUV observed at the time, if it had been William Frazer attempting to stop a Land Rover, officers would have had no hesitation in throwing him in the back of the vehicle.
Yet Gerry Kelly, a person supposedly on licence in consequence of his life sentences, got special treatment.
The fact that Kelly is an elected representative didn't give him a right to act like this. Quite the opposite. The Code of Conduct states that "Members have a duty to uphold the law and to act on all occasions in accordance with the public trust placed in them". Furthermore it says: "Members will act in a way that is conducive to promoting good relations by providing a positive example for the wider community to follow by acting justly and promoting a culture of respect for the law."
The fact that Kelly breached the code was upheld by both the Standards Commissioner and the relevant Assembly committee, and it was recommended that Kelly be suspended for five days.
When the Assembly divided on the issue MLAs voted by 56 to 37 to suspend Kelly for five days.
In any democratic institution this would have resulted in the punishment being enforced, but because the SDLP had joined with Sinn Fein in singing a Petition of Concern, the motion fell.
The vote therefore highlighted that Stormont is a profoundly anti-democratic institution. Not only do Petitions of Concern – a document signed by 30 MLAs – undermine any semblance of democracy, they also ensure that the Code of Conduct is unenforceable as any attempt to sanction a nationalist or unionist MLA is always likely to be vetoed by their respective block in the Assembly.
Petitions of Concern also help to institutionalise sectarianism – something which is central to the whole set- up of Stormont.
- Samuel Morrison is a member of the TUV