Fianna Fáil seeks removal of DUP ‘blocking’ mechanism on marriage equality

Micheál Martin says ‘petition of concern’ used to prevent reform should be suspended

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin attending his party’s annual Easter Rising 1916 commemoration at Arbour Hill, Dublin. Photograph: Tom Honan

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin has called for a referendum on same sex marriage equality to be held in Northern Ireland as a way to break the current political deadlock.

Mr Martin also called for the suspension of the petition of concern mechanism as a potential way forward.

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.

In talks early last year to resolve the political impasse, issues such as same sex marriage and Irish language prevented the parties reaching an agreement.


Mr Martin said an “immediate commitment” to hold a referendum on same sex marriage could break the impasse.

“We agree 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.

“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.

“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.

“An alternative idea, if this would break the logjam, would be an immediate commitment to a referendum on marriage equality which might be a way to deal with the issue.”

A petition of concern requires at least 30 MLAs. It 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.

Mr Martin said a large majority in Westminster could quickly ensure the passage of legislation.

“In my view, the institutions should never have been collapsed over the heating scandal. I think when scandals happen in any political system or within any government, you deal with the scandal, you have the inquiry but you don’t collapse parliament and I think that was a fundamental mistake that was made.

Mr Martin was speaking at the Fianna Fáil 1916 Commemoration in Arbour Hill on Sunday.

He was asked about speculation around a potential election this June. Mr Martin said the country must come first and that we are “not out of the woods” yet in terms of the UK’s departure from the European Union.

“As far as we are concerned we took a position before Christmas in terms of the supply and confidence agreement in the context of a no-deal Brexit looming and it was my view that it would have been reckless and irresponsible to plunge the country into an election and months of forming a government.

“We are still not out of the woods in terms of Brexit and how the parliament might approach it whatever the Taoiseach’s views are, my view is that the country comes first, not the partisan interest of any political party.

“I have made a commitment that we would work towards agreeing a budget, that’s what we agreed to work constructively towards that end. You can’t extend from month to month, that’s what we said and that still holds.”

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times