An amendment to the NI (Ministers, Elections and Petitions of Concern) Bill tabled by Jonathan Caine last week would allow MPs to hold dual mandates as MLAs up until the next General Election in 2024.
Sinn Féin Vice-President Michelle O’Neill said: “Sinn Féin is opposed to double-jobbing and actively worked to end this practice for years, and we will continue to stand against these plans. Plans to restore double-jobbing by allowing MPs to also become MLAs are unacceptable and must be scrapped.”
Ms. O’Neill added: “It represents a major step backwards for politics here and will deny more people, particularly young men and women, the opportunity to step forward into elected politics. Bringing back regressive policies which allow individuals to control multiple elected positions and deny people the right to elect more representatives is not the type of change that people want to see.”
Double-jobbing was outlawed under the NI (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2014, however, an amendment to the NI (Ministers, Elections and Petitions of Concern) Bill which is currently going through the British House of Lords proposes allowing dual mandates for a transitional period. Last month, John Alderdice, the former Alliance Party leader and Liberal Democrat peer moved an amendment to allow people some time to transition from one elected body to another.
He said the ban on dual mandates ‘meant that, at the drop of a hat—or, one might say, more like a guillotine, at the drop of a head—when someone was elected to another place, within eight days they lost their right to sit, initially in the House of Commons and then, much later, the House of Lords.’
He added: “For many people it is not necessarily a huge problem, but it does seem to make it difficult for people to move from the Assembly to the House of Commons, to this place and indeed to Dáil Éireann, and for people in those other parliaments, such as Dáil Éireann and the House of Commons, to move back to the Assembly.”
Alderdice’s amendment garnered cross-partisan support last month in the Lords.
Ex-DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds said: “No doubt when the Minister comes to speak, he will claim credit for the provisions against double-jobbing because he was instrumental in that matter at that time. The reasons why it was done are fully understood in the context of the time, but this amendment would remedy a gap in how it is implemented—that is the important thing—and provide for a proper transition period.”
Former UUP leader David Trimble said: “Having heard what has been said by the noble Lords, Lord Alderdice and Lord Dodds, I think this is a very sensible amendment and I hope it will be accepted by the Government.”
And former leader of the SDLP Margaret Ritchie said: “I am opposed to double-jobbing, but this amendment brings a transitional phase that would help the situation.”
Having considered Alderdice’s amendment, fellow peer Jonathan Caine, who is Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Northern Ireland Office (NIO), warned it was so worded that it would inadvertently allow politicians to hold a dual mandate indefinitely and he asked the Lib Dem peer to withdraw it and promised to ‘go back and look at this further’.
Last week he brought forward a revised amendment that would allow MPs to hold dual mandates for the remainder of the current Westminster term.
The NIO said: “On Wednesday, the government tabled an amendment to the NI (Ministers, Elections and Petitions of Concern) Bill. This followed a proposal by Lib Dem peer and former leader of the Alliance Party in NI, Lord Alderdice during Committee Stage in the House of Lords, which could have allowed dual mandates to have been allowed indefinitely. This was not opposed by his front bench. The government’s proposal is for any dual mandates to be strictly time limited to the subsequent Westminster election. It will enable the smoother transition between legislatures should an MP wish to take a seat in the NI Assembly, and therefore supports the objectives of the bill in promoting greater stability.”