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DUP leader's appeal to scrap the petition of concern rejected

By Staff Reporter

Sinn Fein's northern leader Michelle O'Neill has rejected a call by DUP leader Arlene Foster to scrap the controversial petition of concern.

Launching Sinn Fein's manifesto in Armagh, O'Neill said she was not in the business of setting "red lines" ahead of negotiations.

But she defended the use of the petition of concern, which Mrs Foster (right) has suggested should be scrapped.

The petition of concern was introduced as part of the Good Friday Agreement, designed to protect minority rights in the Assembly. If one is presented to the Assembly speaker, any motion or amendment will need cross-community support.

However, it has been used by the parties to block decisions on a range of issues. It has stopped votes on same-sex marriage being passed and prevented motions of no confidence going through.

According to figures compiled by investigative website The Detail, over a five-year period from 2011 to 2016 a petition of concern was used 115 times.

Mrs Foster's party has been one of the most frequent users of the mechanism.

Over five years, the DUP has signed 86 petitions, while the SDLP and Sinn Fein signed 29.

Of the other parties, the Green Party endorsed four, Alliance three, and the Ulster Unionists two.

Mrs O'Neill said the petition of concern "needs to be used in the manner it was intended, which is to protect minority rights".

"It is others who have abused that position and have used it to deny people rights. That is not acceptable," she told the BBC.

Mrs Foster said earlier this week: "We talk a lot about the petition of concern and our opponents talk a lot about the petition of concern.

"We would actually like to see the petition of concern got rid of for everything, but I think our opponents would like to keep it for the things they want to use the petition of concern for and not allow us to use it."

Meanwhile, Alliance leader Naomi Long has called for reform of the petition of concern, claiming it is holding Northern Ireland back on issues such as same-sex marriage.

"We need to get it back to its original intent and away from what it has become, which is used and abused to protect parties' selfish interests," she said.

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