Eastwood: Recall Stormont and suspend 'petition' that blocked same-sex marriage

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood has called for the recall of Stormont and the suspension of the controversial 'petition of concern' that's been used to block same-sex marriage legislation in the past.

Thursday, 25th April 2019, 5:48 pm
Updated Thursday, 25th April 2019, 6:53 pm
Colum Eastwood.

Mr. Eastwood said the removal of the mechanism would allow MLAs to get on with the business of legislating for rights and equality and that politicians owed it to the late Lyra McKee to get back to governing in Belfast.

He said: "After the tragic events of last week, we cannot retreat into the trenches of distrust and hatred.

“Our politics has been poisoned and our communities abandoned, now is the time to get this sorted.

“The death of Lyra McKee must be a turning point. We must listen to the public and act.

“There is a simple truth to be faced - politics here has failed. That truth means it is our responsibility as political leaders to fix it. We have been casual with our peace and we have forgotten our primary purpose."

The SDLP leader is seeking support for an imaginative proposal to get power-sharing back up and running: the temporary suspension of the petition of concern.

Under Section 42 of the Northern Ireland Act, 30 or more MLAs can petition the Assembly Speaker on matters that are deemed divisive.

If a petition is successful any controversial proposal must earn cross-community support rather than pass by just a simple majority in the Assembly.

During recent Assembly terms, however, the use of the petition to block same-sex marriage legislation has been criticised by the SDLP, Sinn Féin, the Alliance Party and the Greens.

Mr. Eastwood said the petition should be temporarily suspended to allow the Assembly get back up and running.

“Today, the SDLP is proposing the suspension of the Petition of Concern mechanism for the remainder of this Assembly in order to legislate for rights and for all of our futures through the democratic mandate handed to us by the people of Northern Ireland.

"We are also proposing that while the temporary suspension takes place, a meaningful review of the POC is conducted with experts to find agreement on how to protect rights and stop any future abuse of the mechanism. The SDLP has the legislation ready to bring progress and equality - we can begin to enact it on the Assembly's very first day back.

“This proposal threatens no one. It is about creating the space to get parties back into Stormont to take decisions affecting all of our lives. It is clear there is an Assembly majority to resolve the outstanding issues if we remove the veto.

"We need to bring our people back together, we need to bring our government back together. This is a time for leadership, for courage and for compromise.”