Belfast Telegraph

Greens see hope for gay marriage after Foster comments

The DUP's changed position on Stormont's petition of concern could finally lead the way for same sex marriage in Northern Ireland, it has been claimed.

Green Party leader in Northern Ireland Steven Agnew said DUP leader Arlene Foster's claim that she would like to see the petition of concern scrapped has left him hopeful of a change in the law for marriage equality.

A petition of concern - a mechanism introduced as part of the Good Friday Agreement to help protect minority rights in the Northern Ireland Assembly - was used by the DUP in 2015 to stop votes on same-sex marriage being passed.

A majority of MLAs voted in favour of same-sex marriage, but the motion was blocked by the DUP when it deployed the petition.

Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK where gay marriage is not legal.

Mrs Foster said last year that the DUP would use a petition of concern to block any change to the law over the next five years.

However, she has now revealed that the DUP "would like to see the petition of concern got rid of".

She said recently: "I think we need to talk about, maybe after the election, getting rid of the petition of concern altogether."

Mr Agnew said Mrs Foster's comments give hope of a change in law, but added: "I never trust a party that changes its position in the teeth of an election. If they hold the position after the election then there is hope for making progress in that issue.

"Hopefully we could finally deliver a basic right for two people in love to get married."

The Green Party is fielding 18 candidates in the election and is hoping to secure a third seat.

Mr Agnew said: "The Green Party got its biggest vote in May 2016 and recent polls predict our vote to significantly increase. If the Green surge materialises we could see an increase in seats."

He also revealed that he could be interested in entering "conversations" about potentially taking up the justice ministry post after the election.

If he were to become justice minister, Mr Agnew said he would like to increase the criminal age of responsibility from 10 to 14 and end the decriminalisation of abortion.

However he insisted that he would have no interest in going into government if powersharing is just between two parties.

"We have seen with other parties taking up positions in the executive, and essentially it has been a two-party government with them having no ability to make changes.

"When Stephen Farry (Alliance Party) was employment minister he was unable to merge the teacher training colleges yet that had been a key platform for his party.

"If you can't deliver your key platforms why are you in government? I certainly wouldn't go into government under those conditions."

One of the main issues in the Green Party's manifesto is the introduction of a new Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scheme.

The RHI scheme was set up in 2012, intended to increase the creation of heat from renewable sources. However, businesses have been receiving more in subsidies than they are paying for renewable fuel and the scheme became highly oversubscribed.

The fallout from the scandal surrounding the scheme, which is approximately £490m over budget, resulted in the resignation of Sinn Fein's deputy first minister, Martin McGuinness, the collapse of Stormont's institutions and the calling of snap elections on March 2.

Despite public confidence in the scheme being badly damaged by the scandal Mr Agnew said there is a need for a RHI scheme with proper cost controls.

"I would like to see the scheme operating as it does in England, Scotland and Wales. We still need to switch to a low carbon economy and end our reliance on fossil fuels.

"Let's fix the scheme and get back to promoting renewable technologies in a way that is a good use of public money rather than a waste of public money."

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