The Irish Times view on NI veto suspension: Not the right time

After years of stalemate, the North's main parties should have another few weeks to try to resolve their differences

Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin pictured speaking to the media at event. Photograph: Tom Honan

Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin pictured speaking to the media at event. Photograph: Tom Honan

 

The call by Fianna Fáil leader Michéal Martin and his SDLP allies for the suspension of a veto mechanism in the North ahead of the all-party talks on the restoration of the Stormont assembly is premature. There may well be a case for reviewing or even abolishing the petition of concern formula, which provides for the use of a veto in certain circumstances, but now is not the time.

The two biggest Northern parties, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and Sinn Féin have been shamed into a short three-week talks process following the murder of Lyra McKee. Given the delicate nature of the pending talks, a move to abolish the veto would have the capacity to torpedo the initiative.

Tánaiste Simon Coveney was right not to support the Fianna Fáil/SDLP proposal saying he would not start dictating outcomes before the parties had even sat down together.

In the past, the DUP and Sinn Féin have undoubtedly used the mechanism for party political advantage, but it would be better to see how they behave in the talks designed to get the powersharing institutions up and running after an absence of more than two years, rather than introducing a precondition which could scupper the process before it starts.

A paramilitary mural is seen on a wall in East Belfast in Northern Ireland this week. Photograph: Cathal McNaughton/Reuters
A paramilitary mural on a wall in East Belfast in Northern Ireland. File photograph: Cathal McNaughton/Reuters

The petition of concern veto is designed to prevent discrimination of one community over another and requires the backing of at least 30 Assembly members. It ensures that legislation can only pass if it is supported by a weighted majority including at least 40 per cent of the nationalist and unionist blocs. It was used 115 times during the 2011 to 2016 Assembly term, most notably by the DUP in blocking legislation providing for gay marriage.

If the two parties fail to respond to the public pressure to resolve their differences there may well be a case for reviewing it along with other elements of the Belfast Agreement, but, after more than two years of stalemate, it would be as well to give them another few weeks to try to resolve their differences.

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