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Online petition service to give the public a voice at Stormont

By Noel McAdam

Published 14/07/2016

The revelation came in a written Assembly answer from the commission to Ulster Unionist Jo-Anne Dobson
The revelation came in a written Assembly answer from the commission to Ulster Unionist Jo-Anne Dobson

The Assembly is to introduce an online petition page for the public to campaign and complain.

The e-petition facility follows similar moves by Westminster and the devolved administrations in Scotland and Wales.

Stormont's committee on procedures revealed it intended to introduce the new mechanism "in due course".

The Assembly Commission, which is responsible for the day-to-day running of Parliament Buildings, has agreed to finance it from its own budget.

The revelation came in a written Assembly answer from the commission to Ulster Unionist Jo-Anne Dobson.

The Upper Bann MLA said constituents had contacted her to point out that Northern Ireland was out of step with London and the regional administrations. Mrs Dobson also told this newspaper that she believed the move would close the gap between the political process and the public.

"I believe a public petitions system at the Assembly would bring politics closer to people and lead to greater accountability of the Executive in their decision-making," she said.

"There are so many fantastic champions in Northern Ireland across a range of policy areas, especially from my own perspective as a member of the health committee, and I am proud to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with them."

A spokesman for the Assembly Commission, which represents all the main Stormont parties, added: "During the last mandate, the committee on procedures agreed a report on a review of public petitions procedures, which recommended, among other things, that the existing public petitions process should be enhanced by the inclusion of an e-petitions facility to permit the submission of petitions without requiring the sponsorship of a political party."

The Assembly has since approved the move, along with other recommendations in the report.

"The current committee on procedures is giving consideration to these recommendations with a view to introducing an e-petitions facility in due course," The Assembly Commission said.

"The Assembly Commission will provide the necessary resources to facilitate whatever e-petition facility is agreed and introduced."

It is understood that people wanting to initiate a petition will have to be aged 18 or over and registered to vote here. The petition will also have to fall within the Assembly's responsibilities, and it must not be defamatory, vexatious or malicious.

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