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Member of House of Lords asked when PR would be used to elect NI Assembly- nearly 50 years after voting system was introduced


Lord Hylton

Lord Hylton

Chris McAndrew / UK Parliament (

Lord Hylton

A member of the House of Lords asked when proportional representation would be used to elect the Northern Ireland Assembly — almost 50 years after the system was introduced.

Raymond Hervey Jolliffe, 5th Baron Hylton, tabled the query to the Northern Ireland Office at the start of this month.

The 89-year-old crossbench peer, who is a former president of Northern Ireland Association for Care and Resettlement of Offenders (NIACRO), wrote, “To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have, if any, to introduce proportional representation into elections for the Northern Ireland Assembly”.

The answer from Lord Caine, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, said: “Since 1998, members of the Northern Ireland Assembly have been elected using the single transferable vote [system].

“This system was also used for the Assemblies elected in 1973 and 1982.”

Speaking to Sunday Life, Lord Hylton admitted he got confused as to how the Northern Ireland Assembly was elected.

“That was my ignorance because it is already elected by proportional representation, well a form of proportional representation,” he said.

“I missed that point, but anyway I have an answer on that one which states what happens.”

Margaret Ritchie, Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick, said the episode proved there was a need for greater education on Northern Irish affairs among English MPs and Lords.

The single transferable vote system of proportional representation has been used in every Assembly election from the first ill-fated attempt at power-sharing in 1973.

It was also used in the first three elections to the old Parliament of Northern Ireland before the system was dropped in favour of first-past-the-post in 1929.

The gaffe is the latest display of ignorance on Northern Irish politics, coming after the Prime Minister admitted he did not know that parties in the Assembly had to designate as nationalist, unionist or other.

Speaking on LBC’s Tonight with Andrew Marr programme, South Belfast Alliance MLA Paula Bradshaw revealed Boris Johnson was clueless about the Assembly’s designation system during his recent visit to the province.

“Whenever we talked about the need to reform the designation system with the Prime Minister today, he wasn’t even aware that this system was in place,” she said.

“It’s quite flabbergasting that officials have not told him that this was a huge part of the problem here.”

In 2018, then Northern Ireland secretary Karen Bradley admitted she didn’t know nationalists and unionists didn’t vote for one another in elections. 

She told House magazine, a weekly publication for the Houses of Parliament: “I freely admit that when I started this job, I didn’t understand some of the deep-seated, deep-rooted issues that there are in Northern Ireland. 

“I didn’t understand things, like when elections are fought, for example, people who are nationalists don’t vote for unionist parties and vice versa.”

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