Belfast Telegraph

Swann's stance on same-sex petition of concern awry: DUP

By Steven Alexander

A DUP councillor has said he was "deeply perturbed" to learn that the Ulster Unionist leader is "not minded" to sign a petition of concern in the Assembly to prevent the introduction of same-sex marriage.

Robin Swann told the BBC's Inside Politics he will vote against any change to the definition of marriage in Northern Ireland or any change to current abortion laws.

However, he said he wouldn't sign a petition of concern to stop any such motion in a restored Assembly, as the veto mechanism had been abused.

Ballymoney councillor John Finlay praised Mr Swann for opposing same-sex marriage in past votes and committing himself to voting against it in the future.

But he added: "While I commend Mr Swann for the stand he has taken on this, I am deeply perturbed that he now says he will not sign a petition of concern to prevent same-sex marriage if the issue is raised again in the Assembly.

"He cites as his reason the misuse of the petition of concern.

"To me, that is an extremely weak and unjustifiable argument.

"I accept that the petition of concern can be open to abuse, but it is a legitimate mechanism which helps to ensure cross-community support for changes in key areas of policy, and its use in relation to the redefinition of marriage is most certainly justified.

"If Mr Swann is fully committed to the traditional definition of marriage between one man and one woman, then he will not only vote against same-sex unions but he will do all in his power to prevent change, and that includes signing a petition of concern.

"If he fails to do so, he will have forfeited the trust and support of very many people in Northern Ireland, both unionist and nationalist.

"I urge him to reflect very seriously on this matter and do what is morally right, not what is politically expedient."

Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK or Ireland where same-sex marriage has not been legalised.

The DUP was able to block many proposals in the previous Assembly by repeated use of the petition of concern.

However, to do so requires 30 MLAs, and after the March election the party now has only 28 seats, meaning it would need support from two other members.

In 2015 the Assembly voted narrowly in favour of same-sex marriage but the motion fell after the DUP used a petition of concern to argue that the law change did not command sufficient cross-community support.

It was the fifth Assembly debate on the issue.

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