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.

, , ,

  • joeCanuck

    Just the fact that this was a tied vote reinforces my belief that I was right to abandon N.I. in 1981 (when the maximum penalty for committing a homosexual act was life imprisonment).
    We went through a lot of these arguments in Canada over the 25 years I have lived here and we now have absolutely total equal rights for homosexuals including the right to marry (confirmed by a sustantial majority in a parliamentary vote last Thursday). Opinion polls suggest that 2/3 of the population agree with that (it probably would have only been 1/3 25 years ago).

    And the fact that over 12,000 homeosexual couples have married here in the past year and a half strangely has had no adverse impact on my (heterosexual) marriage.

    “The times they are a changin'”.
    Only at a snail’s pace in backward regions of the world (not to mention any place in particular).

  • Pete Baker


    The added dimension in this case, which hasn’t really been developed in the discussions, is that the Labour government will not be introducing these provisions to cover the rest of the UK until April 2007 – assuming Ruth Kelly isn’t swayed by the reported campaign against that happening.

  • missF

    There are no conservative christian groups in canada?

    As I am sure you know, we too have civil partnerships for gay and lesbian couples who wish to follow that route. It may not be perfect, but there is a thriving gay culture in Belfast. And the annual gay pride parade is among the biggest and best in Europe. The times have also changed here.

    It can be no surprise to hear the DUP come out with these arguments, but to give her fair dues, Catriona Ruane made an excellent speech in defence of gay rights

  • Mark McGregor

    What a wonderful and fitting tribute to Michael.

    Even when dead his voice has challenged and beaten the most intolerant in society.

    Creating positive change and equality even in death – not many manage that!

  • joeCanuck

    Miss Fitz

    I didn’t know that; I’ve been away so long.
    Glad to hear it. Thanks for letting me know.

  • Alan

    I thought the European Council Directive 2000/78/EC meant that the legislation would have to be passed in any case.

  • Alan

    Directive 2000/78/EC applies only to employment, vocationsal training and other training. This is already covered by the Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) (Northern Ireland) Order 2003.

    The new regulations are for goods, facilities, services, education, premises and public functions. The Eu has not spoken on these yet in relation to sexual orientation.

  • Alan

    Pardon me, Regulations 2003, not Order. Sorry.

  • missfitz

    I have quite a few pictures on my Flickr site (missfitzphpotos) if you want a wee look at them. You might be surprised!

  • David Ford

    39 – 39. Don’t wait for the transcript, Pete.

    I was four or five behind Gerry Adams in the ‘No’ lobby when he voted, and saw the look on the face of Jeffrey Donaldson, telling for the ‘Ayes’ as he voted twice. Pity there are no cameras in the lobbies.

    Personally, I think it’s crazy that Adams can cast Michael Ferguson’s vote, but then I didn’t agree to the Blair/Adams/Paisley deal at St Andrews.

  • darth rumsfeld

    ..er why would anyone be surpised at Sinn Fein relying on the votes of dead people? it’s hardly a departure for them

  • Pete Baker

    Thanks David.

  • DK

    I see that David Ervine was one of the noes – a further split from his former UUP pals.

  • kadenza

    Sorry but what was wording of the motion?

  • Insider

    The hypocrisy of some of those who voted for the motion is quite staggering… You know who you are, boys – and so do we!

  • RT

    You’ll have to excuse me for asking a stupid question, but:

    39+39=78, where are the other MLAs? What is total number of MLA? On an issue as divisive as this, how come everyone didn’t turn up?

  • joeCanuck

    Look at the Party breakdown RT.
    A considerable number of so called moderates didn’t have the courage of their convictions and discovered that they had previous appointments.

  • RT

    That was the impression I was getting from glancing at the names. Does anyone have the complete breakdown list, including absentees.
    Which is worse, standing up for (homophobic) convictions, or standing by and not getting involved.

  • joeCanuck


    That flickr link doesn’t work for me!
    Nor variations.

  • David Ford

    Complete breakdown requires comparison of membership list with two voting lists. However, in party terms:

    DUP: 26 Ayes (plus Berry), 6 didn’t vote, all apparently absent (of whom Morrow voted against the tap tax in Lords)

    UUP: 12 Ayes, 12 non-voters, of whom at least Copeland abstained in chamber and Hussey didn’t come into chamber

    Other U: Ervine No, McCartney non-vote

    SF: 21 Noes (inc Michael Ferguson) 3 non-voters

    SDLP: 14 Noes, 4 non-voters

    Alliance: 3 Noes, Neeson in London, Close non-voter

    Other: Deeny absent

    I was unaware of any Nationalist or DUP MLA present and abstaining.

  • Pete Baker

    Thanks again, David.

    “[Seamus] Close non-voter”

    Just as well, probably.. ;o)

  • dpef

    David Ford,

    Since you’ve decided to join Slugger’s:

    Did you have to trade Neeson’s vote with Close’s to ensure you didn’t have an Alliance member voting for a homophobic motion?

    Or have you managed, at least partially, to convince Seamus that being openly discriminatory against gay people was damaging your party?

    I will also say, I normally transfer down my card until I hit anti-agreement candidates but I was going to leave the APNI out this time until I realised your anti-gay candidate was leaving politics.

    You are well shot of him. I found his antics on LCC absolutely repulsive.

  • IJP


    With respect, your position makes no sense.

    The Ulster Unionists allowed a free vote on the issue, i.e. did not come out opposing discrimination against homosexuals; whereas Alliance enforced its policy which Seamus (in a purely personal capacity as he himself said) broke. Likewise the SDLP with Danny O’Connor.

    If gay rights are a key policy issue, why then, when Ulster Unionist policy is not opposed to discrimination against homosexuals and Alliance policy is opposed to discrimination against homosexuals, would you transfer Ulster Unionist but not Alliance?

    Still, in a world where Paul Berry can vote “Aye” to such a motion but find his vote cancelled out by a deceased man, who knows anything these days?!