Call to suspend Belfast Agreement veto device rejected by Tánaiste

Micheál Martin had suggested removing petition of concern to ease North deadlock

Parliament Buildings on the Stormont Estate in Belfast. Photograph: Paul Faith/AFP/Getty Images

Parliament Buildings on the Stormont Estate in Belfast. Photograph: Paul Faith/AFP/Getty Images

 

The Government will not back a proposal for the suspension of a controversial veto mechanism in the North pending discussions between the parties, a spokesman for Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney has said.

Reacting to a call from Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin that the petition of concern mechanism, introduced after the Belfast Agreement, be suspended to help break the political deadlock, Mr Coveney said he would not back such a call before the parties had a chance to hold their own talks.

A spokesperson for the Tánaiste said: “The two governments have called all party talks for May 7th and a British Irish Intergovernmental Conference in London for May 8th following the joint statement of the Taoiseach and prime minister May.

“The Tánaiste has met and spoken to all party leaders several times in the last week and has made clear there is a short window of weeks, not months, for the parties to work through issues. However, we’re not going to dictate outcomes before the parties have even sat down together, that’s not the way to do this.”

“We’re not going to dictate outcomes before the parties have even sat down together. That’s not the way to do this,” he said. *

Mr Martin was criticised by both the DUP and Sinn Féin for his suggestion, made at the annual Fianna Fáil 1916 Commemoration in Arbour Hill on Sunday. The Fianna Fáil leader told those in attendance he agreed with the SDLP proposition “about the suspension of the petition of concern as a basis for the immediate restoration of the assembly and the executive”.

A petition of concern, which requires at least 30 MLAs, triggers a mechanism in the assembly whereby legislation will only pass if it is supported by a weighted majority of members including at least 40 per cent of nationalist and unionist blocks.

Marriage equality

“This procedure was developed as a means of protecting minority rights and preventing the majority from seeking to undermine the position of the other community,” Mr Martin said. “The use of the petition of concern to block marriage equality or other measures designed to respect rights, not undermine them, is an unquestionable abuse.”

DUP MP Ian Paisley jnr said the issue was one for politicians elected in the North.

“These are matters entirely within the hands of the people of Northern Ireland via their own elected representatives and would be a matter for local politicians and not for politicians from the Republic,” he said.

“One has got to wonder if such interventions on what are clearly strand-one issues are really designed to advance the situation at all or designed to ensure, because of where the suggestions come from, to stagnate any progress locally at all.”

Sinn Féin said suspending the petition of concern would not achieve “a long-term solution” and criticised attempts to “unpick” the Belfast Agreement.

‘Out of touch’

“Unpicking key provisions of the Good Friday [Belfast] Agreement is shortsighted, and temporarily suspending the petition of concern does not achieve a long-term solution,” a spokesman said.

“The Fianna Fáil leader’s support for this approach is yet another example of him being out of touch with the reasonable expectation of citizens in the North to enjoy the same rights as citizens everywhere else in these islands.”

Before Stormont collapsed in January 2017, five motions had been brought forward to the Assembly on same-sex marriage. However, an Assembly vote in favour of extending civil marriage rights to same-sex couples was vetoed by the DUP using the petition-of-concern blocking mechanism.

It is expected on Monday that the Ireland’s Future grassroots campaign group will say the delivery of rights such as same-sex marriage, women’s health and the Irish language must be central to any talks process.

* This article was amended on April 29th, 2019