Alliance Party conference: ‘Mathematics on side’ for Integrated Education Bill to be passed

The Alliance Assembly member proposing the Integration Education Bill believes the legislation will escape a petition of concern (POC) and pass into law this week.

Former Alliance Party leader David Ford applauds a conference speech on Saturday
Former Alliance Party leader David Ford applauds a conference speech on Saturday

Strangford MLA Kellie Armstrong said the “mathematics are on side” if the Ulster Unionists choose only to vote against the bill rather than join the DUP in vetoing it via a POC.

The decisive vote on the bill takes place on Wednesday amid objections from the DUP, TUV leader Jim Allister and other independent unionist MLAs.

At present the 26 DUP MLAs along with three other unionists have said they want to trigger a POC that would effectively shoot down the bill. Under the rules at Stormont 30 MLA votes are required to trigger the POC – a parliamentary mechanism that allows parties to torpedo legislation they claim does not have cross-community support.

Speaking at Alliance’s annual conference at the weekend, Mrs Armstrong said: “Throughout this whole process the Ulster Unionists as well as the DUP have voted against the bill but the majority of the house has voted for it.

“They (the UUP) can vote against the bill even after negotiating with the other parties, finding amendments, making changes to it. But if none of the UUP put their names to a petition of concern then it’s a straight vote. And in my view a straight vote based on the way MLAs previously voted on the bill means the legislation will go through.”

On the implications of even one UUP MLA siding with the DUP’s POC, Mrs Armstrong said: “What that would signal is that unionism is against integrated education and children being educated together in integrated schools. Overall for Northern Ireland if the bill was shot down this way it would be very depressing for this society because poll after poll has shown support for integrated education.”

She added that defeat for the bill “sends out a message that there are some in politics who don’t want to see children from all backgrounds together in the same classrooms, in the same schools”.

DUP education spokesperson Diane Dodds claimed that if the bill is passed it would force Stormont to “prioritise one sector (integrated) over all others”.