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Equality, not when you have a Petition of Concern

Marriage EqualityI have written previously on First Minister Foster’s inability to move with what the voters have clearly indicated on; it would seem that the DUP remain blinkered to where we are as a society in regards to marriage equality, and if they are so inclined with this minority how are they with others?

I call yet again on the First Minister to stop using the petition of concern to hide behind.  This instrument is long overdue to be removed from civilised politics on both sides, to allow proper politics to move forward along with the country.

I refer the Fist Minister to a report by the BBC in July 2013 which would seem to suggest that Petitions of Concern were being abused by both main political parties, and that the 1998 Act section governing their use was not clear enough and that Petitions of Concern need to review.

The SDLP leader, Mr Durkan,  at that time said:-“I have made the point several times before and do so again that the standing orders need to be corrected in accordance with the agreement and the 1998 Act.

“The argument can also be made, and I made it at the time, that the 1998 Act could have been more explicit in providing for the procedure intended.”

Petitions of concern: Is Stormont’s safeguard system being abused?

Equality

These figures outline the number of times each party has had members sign a petition of concern. As some documents were signed by more than one party, there will be some overlap which is why the total number of petitions in this table amount to more than the total number tabled during the last mandate.

Stormont’s petition of concern used 115 times in five years

Call her Kim Jong Foster, she prefers dictatorship to democracy.

Source: Anti-gay crusade of Arlene Foster, Northern Ireland’s First Minister

Change.org Petition Launched to Stop the DUP using Petition of Concern to derail Equality in NI

 

thegaysay1

People in Northern Ireland are sick of living in a discriminatory backwater for gay people’ – Patrick Corrigan (Amnesty International’s Northern Ireland Programme Director)

 

 

 

The Northern Ireland Assembly in Stormont have now voted on the issue of marriage equality 5 times. All 5 of those motions were blocked by the Democratic Unionist Party through their use of a parliamentary veto called the “petition of concern.” 

Under the complex rules of power sharing in Northern Ireland, parties from either the unionist or nationalist community can use this veto if they feel there is not enough backing from Protestants or Catholics for particular legislation. It was designed to ensure no one community dominated the other following the 1998 Belfast agreement.

This mechanism established to ensure the rights of minorities in Northern Ireland is being continually abused to deny a fundamental right to the LGBT community and, because of this, Northern Ireland is lagging behind the rest of Western Europe in adopting a fairer, more equal and more forward thinking approach to human rights. 

Four previous motions failed to reach a majority in favour of Marriage Equality. However, even if any of these motions did achieve a majority in favour , the DUP had already implemented the petition of concern prior to each vote to ensure the result was a foregone conclusion.

This was also the case with vote 5 in November 2015, but on this occasion the mechanism was officially enacted to veto a majority of politicians who voted ‘AYE’ in favour of the legislation.

Four independent unionist assembly members joined nationalists and others with 53 votes in favour of marriage equality – one vote ahead of the remaining unionists and independents opposed to any reform. A narrow majority but a majority all the same.

The party known as the “Democratic” Unionist Party (DUP) thwarted a democratic vote and derailed equality by using the mechanism unfairly on this issue and it seems most people are not happy about this. 

Numerous surveys have shown that a majority of people in NI are now in favour of marriage equality.

  • In November 2015 a poll jointly commissioned by BBC Northern Ireland and Irish broadcaster RTÉ, revealed that 64 percent of people support equal marriage in Northern Ireland while just 23 percent oppose it. Over 2000 people were surveyed for the cross-borders research, carried out by the polling company B&A. Not far off the landslide 62% YES vote in Ireland’s marriage equality referendum last year.
  • In June 2015 an Ipsos MORI survey interviewed a representative sample of 1,000 adults aged 16+ from across Northern Ireland. The interviews were conducted face-to-face between 20th May and 8th June 2015 with data weighted to match the profile of the population. The results showed that 68% of those surveyed supported marriage equality. The figure rises to 82% among 16 to 34-year-olds and 75% support among 35 to 54-year-olds, but falls to 47% among those aged 55 and over. 

In 2005 UK government actuaries suggested 6% (1 in 16.66) of the population, or about 3.6 million citizens, are either gay or lesbian. The Treasury calculated this estimate when analysing the financial implications of the Civil Partnerships Act. The figures were based on the 2000 National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles (NATSAL), which asked respondents about sexual attitudes and behaviours, but not orientation, and on comparable research from Europe and America.

In a study examining the responses of 7,441 individuals, conducted by the Economic and Social Research Institute in Ireland, found that 2.7% of men and 1.2% of women self-identified as homosexual or bisexual. A question based on a variant of the Kinsey scale found that 5.3% of men and 5.8% of women reported some same-sex attraction. Of those surveyed, 7.1% of men and 4.7% of women reported a homosexual experience some time in their life so far.

In reality however this has less to do with numbers and more to do with human beings with feelings and without access to an equal definition and commitment to love. Most of us will know someone who is gay. This issue is not just about our friends, family, acquaintances, colleagues and neighbours. It is about standing up for basic human rights. 

The DUP have to stop differentiating peoples’ rights under the law according to their sexuality. It’s simple genetics. It would be absurd to say blonde people couldn’t marry. We’ll give them blond partnerships. Blond people could ruin the sanctity of marriage.

The DUP should step up on this issue and show NI is about equality and unity. The negative narrative has clearly has now so evidently isolated us in Western Europe.

The love between same sex and opposite sex couples is the same. Why can’t their love be recognised in the same way?

Love is love regardless of gender and hair colour.

This shouldn’t be an issue of gay rights, blond rights, transgender rights or Christian rights. This is about human rights and the equal recognition of love under the law.

It has already been established that any marriage equality legislation will grant religious organisations protections so that they will not have to officiate same sex ceremonies. This means there is no threat to the religious interpretation and view that marriage should remain as between a man and a woman. It’s just not right that in a democratic society everyone should be forced to think that way. The only people truly affected by this legislation would be those who wish to marry someone of the same sex.

Sign this petition to voice your opposition to the DUP’s abuse of the petition of concern and to petition OFMDFM to agree not to use such a veto on what is evidently a human rights and equality issue.  
As first minister and leader of the DUP, Arlene Foster has the power to bring Northern Ireland into the 21st century and alter the perception that her party is trapped in the past. The last thing Northern Ireland needs for its image right now is the perception that it is “on the wrong side of history.” Sign your name on the petition HERE and stand up for human rights.

Letter to
Office of the First and Deputy First Minister in Northern Ireland (OFMDFMNI)
Stop the DUP using the ‘petition of concern’ to veto Marriage Equality in Northern Ireland

The DUP are risking a great deal in blocking equal marriage

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Siobhan Fenton

northern-ireland-assembly[dropcap]I[/dropcap]t’s fair to say that Northern Ireland isn’t exactly a trail blazer when it comes to social justice issues. Long after England, Scotland, Wales and finally the Republic of Ireland voted to legalise same-sex marriage, the country continues to lag behind.

However, this changed yesterday as Northern Ireland finally voted yes to same-sex marriage. A cause for celebration, you might think, but same-sex couples won’t be booking into registry offices any time soon. Despite the bill being supported by 50.5 per cent of MLAs, it still cannot pass due to the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) blocking it.

This has happened because under the devolved Stormont parliament, political parties can trigger a “petition of concern” to block legislation in the chamber. Once issued, it means that a bill cannot just get a simple majority vote overall, instead it needs to get a majority amongst Nationalist or Catholic politicians, as well as a majority amongst Unionist or Protestant politicians.

Many of the DUP’s leading politicians are staunch traditional Protestants who are fierce in their opposition to what they term “sodomites” within Northern Ireland. They are resolute in their determination to block LGBT rights through any means possible, no matter how underhand or undemocratic.

Although they were unable to stop same-sex marriage being approved by a majority, the DUP were able to stop it from being approved by a majority of Unionists by triggering the petition and then voting no themselves. This technicality meant that today’s vote cannot count and Northern Ireland will remain the only part of the UK or Ireland without marriage equality.

The “petition of concern” mechanism is thought to be unique to Northern Ireland’s political structures and was embedded in power-sharing to protect either side of the religious divide if a bill was genuinely harmful or unjust towards either ‘side’. However, the DUP have begun misusing the process in order to block same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland.

Today’s vote leaves Northern Ireland in a difficult position in terms of democracy. It will have significant repercussions for the nature of devolution and the relationship between Westminster and Stormont.

Westminster will now have to consider whether to intervene to circumvent the DUP’s petition in order to enable Northern Irish same-sex couples to finally marry. If they do not do so, they will be accused of letting the DUP’s bully tactics triumph and of allowing the Northern Irish LGBT community to suffer.

Yet, if Westminster does intervene, it will also face accusations of undermining the principle of devolution- that Northern Irish issues are for Northern Irish politicians alone to deal with.

Above all, the incident is yet another example of how power sharing structures negotiated in the 1990s are showing their strain. Whilst they might have proved effective elements of the Assembly in its infancy, “petitions of concern” are being misused by politicians to undermine the business of their own parliament. As Stormont’s near collapse in September proved, a number of elements of the Good Friday Agreement and Northern Ireland Assembly are proving to no longer be fit for purpose and are doing more to impede than support democracy in the province.