Rights debate too close to call?

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the controversial debate this morning in the transitional assembly, when the arguments had been over-rehearsed, was in the votes. The motion fell with the votes tied 39 – 39.. but it’s been claimed that that only happened because the vote of former SF MLA Michael Ferguson, who died earlier this year, was counted against the motion [we’ll have to wait to see the transcript to check that Update Transcript confirmed]. But that could only occur because the Northern Ireland (St Andrews Agreement) Bill, which was rushed through to meet one of those deadlines, included a measure which allowed a change to the standing orders[pdf file]From the NI (St Andrews Agreement) Act

17 Vacancy in the Assembly

In Schedule 6 to the 1998 Act (which makes certain provision about standing orders), after paragraph 4 insert-

“5 Votes in vacancy

The standing orders may include provision enabling a right to vote in the Assembly which could have been exercised but for a vacancy in the membership of the Assembly to be exercisable in such manner as is so provided.”

And from the current Standing Orders[pdf file], a provision that was not there previously[pdf file]

17… (h) Where a right to vote could have been exercised but for a vacancy in the membership of the Assembly, subject to (i), the nominating officer (as defined in Standing Order 22(a)) of the party of the member that held the seat on the vacancy occuring shall be entitled to exercise that vote.

Update The transcript confirms that Michael Ferguson’s vote was recorded

Question put.

The Assembly divided: Ayes 39; Noes 39.


Billy Armstrong, Norah Beare, Roy Beggs, Billy Bell, Paul Berry, Esmond Birnie, Thomas Buchanan, Gregory Campbell, Wilson Clyde, Robert Coulter, Leslie Cree, George Dawson, Diane Dodds, Nigel Dodds, Jeffrey Donaldson, Reg Empey, George Ennis, Arlene Foster, Samuel Gardiner, Paul Girvan, William Hay, David Hilditch, Danny Kennedy, Nelson McCausland, William McCrea, David McNarry, Stephen Moutray, Dermot Nesbitt, Robin Newton, Ian Paisley Jnr, Ian R K Paisley, Edwin Poots, George Robinson, Peter Robinson, Jim Shannon, David Simpson, Mervyn Storey, Peter Weir, Jim Wilson.

Tellers for the Ayes: Jeffrey Donaldson and
Edwin Poots


Gerry Adams, Alex Attwood, Dominic Bradley, Mary Bradley, Francis Brolly, Willie Clarke, John Dallat, Pat Doherty, David Ervine, Sean Farren, David Ford, Tommy Gallagher, Carmel Hanna, Davy Hyland, Dolores Kelly, Gerry Kelly, Patricia Lewsley, Naomi Long, Alban Maginness, Alex Maskey, Fra McCann, Kieran McCarthy, Raymond McCartney, Alasdair McDonnell, Barry McElduff, Philip McGuigan, Mitchel McLaughlin, Eugene McMenamin, Francie Molloy, Conor Murphy, John O’Dowd, Pat O’Rawe, Tom O’Reilly, Pat Ramsey, Sue Ramsey, Margaret Ritchie, Caitriona Ruane, Kathy Stanton.

Vote on vacancy in Membership [Michael Ferguson (deceased)]: Gerry Adams.[added emphasis]

Tellers for the Noes: Eugene McMenamin and Sue Ramsey

Question accordingly negatived.

Madam Speaker: Order. I remind Members that, under Standing Order 18(f), if the votes in a Division are equal, the amendment or motion shall not be carried. Therefore the motion is not carried.

The sitting was suspended at 12.43 pm.