Review of Petitions of Concern

Committee: Assembly and Executive Review Committee

Session: 2013/2014

Date: Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Reference: Review of Petitions of Concern

ISBN: Only available online

Mandate Report Number: 2011/15

Together with the Minutes of Proceedings of the Committee relating to the Report, Minutes of Evidence, and Written Submissions

Powers

The Assembly and Executive Review Committee is a Standing Committee established in accordance with Section 29A and 29B of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 and Standing Order 59 which provide for the Committee to:

  • consider the operation of Sections 16A to 16C of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 and, in particular, whether to recommend that the Secretary of State should make an order amending that Act and any other enactment so far as may be necessary to secure that they have effect, as from the date of the election of the 2011 Assembly, as if the executive selection amendments had not been made;
  • make a report to the Secretary of State, the Assembly and the Executive Committee, by no later than 1 May 2015, on the operation of Parts III and IV of the Northern Ireland Act 1998; and
  • consider such other matters relating to the functioning of the Assembly or the Executive as may be referred to it by the Assembly.

Executive Summary

The Assembly and Executive Review Committee is a Standing Committee of the Northern Ireland Assembly that was established to:

make a report to the Secretary of State, the Assembly and the Executive Committee, by no later than 1 May 2015, on the operation of Parts III and IV of the Northern Ireland Act 1998; and

consider such other matters relating to the functioning of the Assembly or the Executive as may be referred to it by the Assembly.

On 14th January 2014, the Committee agreed the Terms of Reference for its Review of Petitions of Concern.

The Committee considered relevant sections of the evidence received from its previous Review of D’Hondt, Community, Designation and Provisions for Opposition, as part of this directly addressed the Review of Petitions of Concern. One of the conclusions in the Committee’s Report on this Review stated that ‘further detailed work on Petitions of Concern needs to be carried out’. The Committee also commissioned and considered three Assembly Research Papers that informed Members’ discussions and views on the issues arising from this Review.

As set out in the Terms of Reference, the Review considered evidence on Petitions of Concern in relation to:

provisions for voting on an Ad Hoc Committee on Conformity with Equality Requirements prior to the vote on a Petition of Concern.

the possibility of restricting the use of Petitions of Concern to certain key areas, and mechanisms that might facilitate this.

whether the current threshold of 30 signatures required for a Petition of Concern should be adjusted.

whether the Petitions of Concern mechanism should be replaced with an alternative mechanism, such as a weighted-majority vote.

The Committee concluded that:

While there was support among some Parties on the Committee for the use of the alternative mechanism of a weighted-majority vote for matters subject to a Petition of Concern, there was no consensus on this issue. Therefore, in this context, the Committee reaffirmed the following conclusion from its previous Report: “…there was no consensus for replacement of community designation [and Petitions of Concern] by, for example, a weighted-majority vote in the Assembly of 65%.”

Although there was some support among the Parties represented on the Committee for restricting the use of Petitions of Concern to key areas, there was no consensus among the Committee on how that would operate.

The Committee agreed that, should the number of MLAs in the Assembly be reduced, there should be a proportional change in the number of MLA signatures required to trigger a Petition of Concern.

While there was some support among the Committee for taking a vote on the establishment of an ACER only when a Petition of Concern relates to legislation, there was no consensus on this issue.

Even though there was some support for the establishment of a Standing Committee on Equality and Human Rights Conformity to replace the Ad Hoc Committee mechanism referred to in Standing Orders 35 and 60, there was no consensus on this issue.

It is important to highlight that although the Committee did not achieve consensus for most of its conclusions on this complex subject, the Report sets out in some detail the options considered together with the individual Party positions on specific options. The Committee therefore sees that this Report provides valuable information for the Assembly to reach a way forward on this matter.

View the full report here

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