Petition of concern reform plan ‘hypocrisy’

Alliance's Kellie Armstrong
Alliance's Kellie Armstrong

Calls for the government to legislate for reforms to Stormont’s petition of concern system have been slammed by unionists.

With talks between the DUP and Sinn Fein aimed at salvaging devolution showing no clear signs of progress, Alliance has urged the secretary of state to implement changes to the Assembly veto mechanism.

Such a move, the party said, would help clear the way for the restoration of the Stormont institutions.

Alliance MLA Kellie Armstrong also claimed the reform would allow issues such as an Irish language act and equal marriage “to be debated on the Assembly floor instead of serving as blockages to the return of power-sharing”.

But the proposal has been criticised by unionists, who accused Alliance of attempting to “pick and choose” how the petition of concern is used.

Branding the mooted reform as “hypocrisy of the highest order”, TUV leader Jim Allister said it was “ironic that the chief cheerleaders for the Belfast Agreement should seek to change one of its key provisions”.

He told the News Letter: “Alliance MLAs have been quite happy to sign petitions of concern when it furthered their own political objectives and now they seek to have it ‘reformed’, not replaced, in order to get another couple of their policies through.”

DUP MLA Gordon Lyons said Alliance “cannot pick and choose” how the petition of concern might be used in the Assembly.

He also noted that Alliance was “now keen for the secretary of state to take unilateral action without agreement amongst the parties locally”.

Former Ulster Unionist leader Sir Reg Empey said the Alliance Party seemed to be “moving towards advocating majority rule” on some issues.

“Given the fact that they are quite happy to go with the majority when Sinn Fein are proposing motions in Belfast City Hall, that shouldn’t be very surprising,” Lord Empey added.

Mrs Armstrong said other political parties had “nothing to fear from this approach, with any outcome in the Assembly reflecting realistically proportional outcomes on all issues and echo the clear views of the people of Northern Ireland”.