Belfast Telegraph

Petition of concern Stormont talks sticking point as DUP alone opposes any reform to mechanism

Secretary of State Julian Smith and Tanaiste Simon Coveney meet with the Northern Ireland political party leaders including Arlene Foster, Michelle O'Neill, Colum Eastwood, Stephen Farry and Steve Aiken at Stormont House yesterday
Secretary of State Julian Smith and Tanaiste Simon Coveney meet with the Northern Ireland political party leaders including Arlene Foster, Michelle O'Neill, Colum Eastwood, Stephen Farry and Steve Aiken at Stormont House yesterday
Allan Preston

By Allan Preston

Reforming the controversial petition of concern mechanism remained one of several key sticking points as the talks resumed yesterday.

Work also continued to find agreement on an Irish Language Act and addressing the legacy of the Troubles.

Introduced as part of the Good Friday Agreement, the petition of concern was originally intended to give protection to minorities by requiring majority support from both unionists and nationalists on certain decisions.

This includes electing Speakers, excluding ministers from office and financial decisions.

But there has been widespread criticism since then that parties have abused the legislative mechanism.

The DUP have triggered the petition of concern the most, often to block legislation on social issues like same-sex marriage.

DUP leader Arlene Foster told the BBC yesterday she supported keeping the mechanism.

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"It was there to protect minorities, and it is important that it continues to have that function," she said.

"I think it is important that it does stay, and in fairness to the other parties, I think they want it to stay as well."

Alliance leader Naomi Long said reforms put forward by her party had been accepted by the UK and Irish Governments and all parties except the DUP.

Mrs Long insisted that without the changes, another Stormont crisis would be all but guaranteed.

The DUP's Edwin Poots added that it was "entirely misguided" to suggest the petition of concern was the only significant issue still outstanding in the talks.

Sinn Fein MLA Conor Murphy said agreement was also needed on a new Programme for Government and financial resources available to any new Executive.

His party maintain that a standalone Irish Language Act must be part of any deal to finally restore devolution at Stormont.

The DUP have given some indication they are willing to legislate on the Irish language, but only as part of broader culture laws which include the Ulster-Scots tradition.

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