Are vetoes in Northern Ireland ‘stumbling blocks’ for effective government? – News 247

Are vetoes in Northern Ireland ‘stumbling blocks’ for effective government? – News 247


 Boris Johnson and the Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar agreed they were on a “pathway” to reaching an agreement over the Irish border after a successful meeting in Cheshire yesterday, giving the public hope that there may be a Brexit deal before the October deadline after all  In further developments, the Northern Ireland secretary Julian Smith also announced today there will not be a situation where “one community has a veto” over Brexit plans This was in response to fears expressed by some political parties in Northern Ireland that Mr Johnson may offer the DUP – the Democratic Unionist Party – a veto on post-Brexit arrangements  Mr Johnson has agreed that it would be anti-democratic to agree to a Northern Ireland only backstop in a Brexit deal without first getting the consent of the nation – especially because it would involve the country following the EU trade rules without having any say over said regulations  His latest proposals suggest Northern Ireland votes on its relationship with the EU – whether to continue following its trade rules or to align more with the rest of the UK, which could potentially create a hard border with the Republic of Ireland This is a proposal initially suggested by Theresa May and is called the Stormont Lock  However, the Northern Ireland Assembly collapsed in 2017 following disagreements between the leading parties the DUP and Sinn Fein over a green energy scheme  Since 1988, the Stormont Assembly has employed a system called “parallel consent”, where a motion can only be passed if at least 60 percent of the MLAs voting in favour of it – at least 40 percent of these MLAs must be unionists and 40 percent must be nationalist  It also uses a veto arrangement called “petition of concern” or PoC, whereby the debate surrounding a particular bill can be delayed by a day or only pass if there is a cross-community agreement A PoC goes ahead if at least 30 of the 108 MLAs object to a bill. These two elements aimed to represent the range of communities that live together in Northern Ireland and was part of the peace-keeping Good Friday Agreement  However, in a 2018 Irish News article, commentator Brendan Hughes described how the parliamentary attitude towards the “petition of concern” has changed because “all the main parties want to either remove or reform it, but disagree on how”  He explained: “It was meant to be a key safeguard to power-sharing, but is now seen as a stumbling block to Stormont ever being restored   “Critics say PoC has long been abused, but supporters say that when used correctly, it protects communities against being adversely affected by assembly decision ” He added: “Its controversial use in blocking some decisions has led to calls for it to be reformed or completely removed ” In a 2013 BBC article, Northern Ireland political correspondent Gareth Gordon also questioned whether the “Stormont’s safeguard system being abused”  He reported that the former SDLP leader Mark Durkan said his party was being “played like a joker” over PoCs   Some of the DUP’s other political rivals reportedly described the party’s actions as “an abuse”, “political chicanery” and a “farce”   During the 2011 to 2016 Assembly term, the veto was used 115 times, predominantly by the DUP  However, commentator Mr Hughes explained how much the approach towards this veto system has changed in the subsequent years: “The DUP – which has deployed the most PoCs and has also faced the most criticism over their use – say it now wants the mechanism scrapped  “Sinn Fein, SDLP, UUP, Alliance and the Green Party want it ‘reformed’ rather than removed, but there is disagreement on how it should be changed ” While Stormont remains divided however, it is uncertain what will happen to the veto system   Trending  In today’s BBC interview, Mr Smith did not deny that a Northern Ireland only referendum may be possible in the future Instead, he said they were considering “a range of options” to ensure the nation were able to provide their consent over Brexit plans  He did say he was “not at all” thinking about calling a border poll. Yet, Mr Varadkar agreed problems over “consent and democracy” still continue  The Irish Taoiseach briefed EU officials before another meeting between EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier and Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay which took place today  

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