Belfast Telegraph

Petition of concern reform 'key' to restoring Northern Ireland institutions: SDLP

The SDLP has said reform of the petition of concern is key to restoring of the Northern Ireland devolved institutions.

Deputy leader Nichola Mallon said the party had a "very productive day" meeting with some of the parties and the British Government.

"The big focus for us would be the reform of the petition of concern," she said.

"We have made it very clear to the British Government not only does a reformed petition of concern unlock some of the very difficult issues upfront, a reformed petition of concern is key to a sustainable Executive going forward."

LIVE: SDLP Stormont Talks update

Posted by Belfast Telegraph on Thursday, January 25, 2018

She said her party had not been told if the matter was part of the "secret talks" between the DUP and Sinn Fein last year.

"The question we pose to them, 'if they haven't focused on it, why not?'.

"If they are serious, genuine and sincere about resolving the difficult issues and having a sustainable Executive going forward then they must address this issue."

When the petition of concern is deployed in the Assembly it means any matter must get cross-community agreement in the chamber before it can be passed. MLAs voted narrowly in favour of same-sex marriage in November 2015. However a DUP petition of concern meant it did not pass as the vote  required separate majorities of both unionists and nationalists to succeed.

Ms Mallon said matters such as same-sex marriage could be solved by the reform of the petition of conern. She said the petition of concern should only be used to protect minorities, as had been envisaged in the Good Friday Agreement and not "about the abuse of power".

"And that's how it has been used," she said.

"Reform allows parties to hold their principled positions. It can deliver the outcomes we all need."

All-party talks aimed at restoring the Northern Ireland devolved institutions resumed on Wednesday. If follows after a year of political stalemate after Sinn Fein pulled out of the Executive.

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