On DUP Petitions of Concern (and one possible judicious use of Tippex)… [UPDATED WITH TIPPEXED MARRIAGE EQUALITY POC]

Much attention has been expended on the DUP use of Petition of Concerns (POC).  Unsurprising since they’ve had a good run of appearances recently, including:

  • the blocking of a bill for Rates Relief for Sports Clubs;
  • (almost) every amendment to a welfare reform bill in February;
  • a same sex Marriage bill in April;
  • and it is expected another will emerge on the same issue later today.

After the April POC, a small number of party insiders furtively suggested to Slugger that the DUP have their MLAs “bulk sign” POCs to be used at the party’s discretion, reminiscent of those pre dated resignation letters.

So a couple of days after, I made a point of asking all their MLAs when they had signed that particular POC.

The only MLAs to respond directly were Nelson McCausland and Edwin Poots – both of whom were unable to recall when they had put their name to that form, just 7 days after its use.

Interestingly the POC which blocked the Rates Relief for Sports Clubs bill on the 21st of October, was signed by Emma Pengelly, who had been co-opted to replace Jimmy Spratt on September 28th, 23 days previously.

Here’s a copy of the signatory page…

POC Sports

Look closely at  Pengelly’s signature. In the spot that alphabetically would have been Jimmy Spratt’s spot on the list there are distinct pen marks which are detached from Pengelly’s.

Spratt’s signature appears to have been tippexed out and oversigned…

POC Sports Pengelly Jimmy Spratt Signature

It begs the question of what’s going on here? Is this another case of ‘we have your signature and you cannot dissent’? Can you as a DUP MLA even refuse to endorse a POC you may already have given up to the party whips?

 


 

This is the Petition of Concern to be used by the Democratic Unionist Party to block the Marriage Equality vote today.

SSM POC Confirmed

The tippex is out once again…

SSM POC Arlene Foster Peter Robinson

Here we appear to have Arlene Foster’s name and signature removed…

SSM POC Jonathan Bell Michelle McIlveen

In this one we can see that Jonathan Bell and Michelle McIlveen have been tippexed from the document…

SSM POC Simon Hamilton Emma Pengelly Mervyn Storey

And finally we have Simon Hamilton and Mervyn Storey’s signatures removed as well as Jimmy Spratt, which has been signed over the top by Emma Pengelly.

These errant pen marks which escaped the tippex pen can be compared to the signatures on the POC at the top of this article on Rates Relief for Sports Clubs.

Further evidence that MLAs are perhaps not aware of that which they are signing, that bulk signing POCs allows the party itself to enact an agenda without needing to directly address any issues that members may have with a bill.

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  • T.E.Lawrence

    It also begs the question do all the other political parties up on the hill adopt the same Petition of Concern MLA Signature Protocol ?

  • Jag

    Fascinating observation above. Peter Robinson is the only person not to have signed.

    Does the DUP have a stock of these pre-filled in forms, with the heading left blank and it just types in the subject at the top when an occasion arises?

    And is that really Nelson McCausland’s signature?

  • SeaanUiNeill

    I have previously been quite properly rebuked on Slugger for mocking what may actually be the genuine, entirely thought through choices of voters, by suggesting that many of my fellow citizens appear to vote by “standing order”, but to encounter “petition of concern by standing order” appears to me to be the final confirmation that at least one portion of the representatives our voters elect do not seemingly care about anything that affects the general public they represent beyond the requirements of their own party and their own personal careers.

  • James Martin

    Does anyone seriously think that the DUP would not have got 30 MLAs to sign this particular petition of concern? This seems to be an entirely pointless story. On top of that, for all of those complaining about the use of the petition of concern let’s remember some of the other wonderful uses of it in recent years:

    1. Defence of Gerry Kelly, when three SDLP MLAs signed a PoC alongside Sinn Fein members.

    2. The attempt to prevent private abortion providers from offering abortions in Northern Ireland. On two occasions Sinn Fein, Alliance, Green and NI21 members used the PoC to block this measure. Incidentally, I don’t remember the cry from social liberals at that time about the abuse of the petition of concern- seems they are fairly selective in what they will complain about…

    3. And of course the issue of welfare reform.

    Of course it can’t be denied that the DUP abuse the petition of concern. However, so does everyone else- every party in the Assembly (please correct me if I am wrong) has used this mechanism to serve their own particular purposes. The whole mechanism needs to be reviewed and preferably overhauled. But please be consistent in your criticism, not just when it suits your own particular agenda.

  • Belfast Barman(ager)

    In this article have I criticised the mechanism of a petition of concern? No, I haven’t

  • James Martin

    Do you really believe that the DUP members are being forced to sign these things against their will? And incidentally, I am sure the other parties do the same thing

  • Catcher in the Rye

    The attempt to prevent private abortion providers from offering abortions in Northern Ireland

    Depends on your attitude. This amendment would have taken something away from a section of society (ie women) and, if you see things that way, is a clear example of what the PoC mechanism was actually intended for.

    Compare this to the examples noted by Kris. The same sex marriage motion takes rights away from nobody. If it passed it would have absolutely no legislative effect. And I struggle to understand how enabling rates relief for sports clubs is harmful to a minority, especially given that we already provide rates relief to other social groups (ie the Orange Order).

    The use of a PoC against the welfare reform arguably falls within the intended purpose, as, on face value, the passing of that bill could take rights (access to welfare money) away. I don’t agree with voting down the welfare bill in the way that has been done, but I don’t define this as an abuse.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Not perhaps “against their will”, but certainly without any discussion about how their signatures may be used in cases such as this. As I’d said below, its a marker for the careless contempt in which many of our representatives appear to hold the concept of democracy.

  • Belfast Barman(ager)

    Which other party could possibly presign them? No other party has the numbers for a POC and has to collaborate with another party…

    And re: dup being forced to sign. I’m not saying they are forced… But if I were a DUP MLA and I was told to sign a job lot of POCs, and the party already held my undated resignation letter…. I’m not sure the public may ever know what my personal view on it is. We all believe that the Dior are steadfast in their unity on these kinds of issues…. But what wiggle room is there for speaking up? It could perhaps be a carefully cultured and controlled public image, whipped into place by such procedures as the resignation letters.

  • James Martin

    Yes I suppose it does depend on your attitude- you can view same-sex marriage in a very different way from the one you have outlined here, but this is not the place to debate that. With regard to the abortion amendment it was backed by both Unionists and Nationalists (being proposed by a DUP and SDLP member) so I am not sure what the cross-community basis of the PoC was in that instance. I highly doubt when the PoC was drawn up as a concept that this was the kind of issue they thought it would be used on. The same applies incidentally to SSM- my point is that the vast majority of instances where the PoC is used are inappropriate, not just SSM.

  • Catcher in the Rye

    I do not think it is a pointless story; I think it is appropriate to highlight the bad faith associated with the petition of concern mechanism. The Petition of Concern, when it was designed, was intended as something that would be used sparingly and as a last resort to stop the Assembly from enacting the type of legislation, perceived to discriminate unfairly against sections of society, that led to the destabilisation of the country under the old Stormont regime.

    But as James notes, it is unlikely that any of the MLAs signed the form against their will. If they felt that strongly about it they would not sign it in the first place. And in our system, where party whips are powerful, it is likely a function of the whip to insist that people sign this form, in the same way as it is a function of a whip to require that MLAs vote as expected by the party’s leadership.

    A way to get rid of this problem would be, instead of filing a petition of concern, to have a system where prior to every vote, any group leader in the Assembly could raise a motion to vote on whether or not the following vote should be held on a cross-community basis; that vote would require only 30 MLAs in favour to pass, and would necessitate 30 MLAs being present in the chamber. However, I suspect that this approach would simply be too inconvenient for the parties, and after all, the whole edifice seems to be there to service their interests and not those of the electorate.

  • James Martin

    I suppose the only way to answer this would be to ask the other parties, but I would not be shocked if most of them were at it (to be fair to Alliance I don’t think all of their members have used a PoC, nor the UUP but I would have to check). You ask a fair question about the DUPs discipline- it is probably something that could also be said about Sinn Fein as well. But I would imagine that most DUP MLAs (if not all) know what they are signing up for when they stand as candidates for the Assembly.

  • Catcher in the Rye

    you can view same-sex marriage in a very different way from the one you have outlined here, but this is not the place to debate that.

    I purposefully did not outline a view on same sex marriage. I made the point that passing the motion has no legislative effect and there is therefore no reason to use a PoC to stop it.

    With regard to the abortion amendment it was backed by both Unionists and Nationalists (being proposed by a DUP and SDLP member) so I am not sure what the cross-community basis of the PoC was in that instance.

    The deployment of the PoC itself has nothing to do with “cross community basis”. It is simply 30 MLAs saying that they feel the proceeding vote must be carried on a cross community basis.

  • James Martin

    Fair point- I misread what you said here.

  • Catcher in the Rye

    Sinn Féin pre-sign them.

    And there’s nothing that says all the signatures have to appear in the same place. So the Speaker can accept a sheet with 28 Sinn Féin signatures on it, and another sheet with 15 (or whatever) SDLP signatures, and the job is done.

  • Jag

    Gordon Lyons’s appended signature at the bottom indicates this sheet was drafted before 12 th August 2015 when Gordon was coopted to replace the departing Sammy Wilson.

    The Sports club rates relief bill was introduced on 30th June 2015, but only debated last month.

    Surely, these pre-signed POCs are a (further) perversion of democracy and should be referred to the standards office.

  • Jag

    Surely the above POC is invalid, if the signatories didn’t know what they were signing up to? If I sign my name for an autograph hunter today, and tomorrow find the signature has been affixed to a cheque, then the cheque is obviously not valid.

  • Korhomme

    A Question: do PoCs have to be justified? By justified, I mean does an MLA have to get up and explain exactly why whatever is under consideration is a ‘bad thing’ so that blocking it is a legitimate function in a democracy.

    Or, are PoCs simply a way of blocking anything a bunch of people don’t like, for what ever reason, without ever having to explain their actions?

  • Jag

    Actually, Gordon’s signature could have been added at any time. Although his name is at the bottom, he is presumably replacing Sammy Wilson’s box which has been tippexed out. My mistake.

  • Belfast Barman(ager)

    Well, precisely

  • The Gruffalo

    None of the other parties have enough MLAs

  • chrisjones2

    If that has been done then those POCs must lawfully be invalid. Time for a referral to M’ Learned Friends perhaps

  • chrisjones2

    No…but they have to be done legally. If this is true they arent

  • T.E.Lawrence

    Does not matter if none of the other parties have the 30 number MLAs required to issue a POC ! (Don’t be surprised after the next Assembly Elections No party has that luxury all by themselves). The question is do they adopt a same Party Whip Protocol (as seems to be by the DUP) for a Block Book Signature for all their MLAs for a POC Vote ?

  • Reader

    Hmm. Suppose *I* got a copy of a signed sheet. What could I do with it? Would that action be valid?

  • Ricky Duffy

    Holy Holy the DUP’s are at again.

  • Will McConnell

    Is there anything to read into the fact that Peter Robinson and Arlene Foster didn’t sign?

  • chrisjones2

    No…any prejudice will do. Thought or justification not required

  • Disdain

    They’re the only two big enough and smelly enough to be exempt from the rule, I would guess.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Everyone who’s been tipexed is a senior minister (as opposed to Emma Pengelly’s junior ministry). They all voted no to the motion.

    This might be DUP silly rules because they have 38 MLAs which means they have 8 to take off the list, but there really was no bar on the five or six ministers signing it.

  • Kevin Breslin

    I agree on that:

    On 1 was extremely petty because that matter should be left to the police, likewise with Michael Copeland in a similar circumstance for a ruckus that hurt his wife by accident.

    On 2. these were specific to abortions under the guidelines of Northern Ireland legislation around abortions in emergency circumstances. It is questionable if they would be able to offer abortions in violation to the law.

    On 3. the DUP used a Petition of Concern to block amendments by the Green Party and SDLP being put to a vote before the SDLP used a Petition of Concern, DUP amendments to the bill went unchallenged.

    Under majoritary voting … we would have marriage equality, so called “welfare reform”, a ban on Mary Stopes and Gerry Kelly disciplined while Michael Copeland is not.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Gives each party equal blame. 😀

  • M McCullagh

    Having thought about it – a petition of concern form with legislation detailed on top should come from the speaker’s office and be date stamped. Then people sign it. It should stop these desk drawer hoards

  • Heather Richardson

    What has happened to Kris’s follow-up posting confirming that DUP MLAs are asked to bulk-sign blank POCs for deployment when the party sees fit?

  • Korhomme

    Isn’t a PoC about protection of “minorities”, the prevention of one-sided discriminatory legislation? If so, why, in relation to same-sex-marriage, is it being used to discriminate against a minority? Or, exactly who will be harmed if this legislation succeeds?

  • Korhomme

    30 MLAs are needed for a PoC. Only the DUP has more than 30 MLAs.

    So, the DUP can have a veto on any legislation they don’t like; and they don’t have to give a reason for it. Other parties must agree amongst themselves to reach the magical 30 MLAs.

    How can this power in the hands of only one party be in any way described as “democracy” or even “power sharing”?

    How about a change to the rules? The DUP needs 39 + 3 (having 39 MLAs), SF need 28 + 3 (having 28 voting MLAs), and so on. All parties need more than the number of their (voting) members to bring a PoC.

  • Granni Trixie

    Actually you ought NOT be sure as you are wrong. Can’t speak for other parties but Alliance does not get its MLAs to sign blank cheques or blanked POCs.

  • Granni Trixie

    Please See above – ‘everybody’ is not signing without knowing what they are signing up to.

  • Heather Richardson

    Answer came there none. It’s enough to turn a person into a conspiracy theorist!

  • Greenflag 2

    Could TippGate become an issue in the Assembly elections ? Would an extended and public debate on the topic favourably enhance public perception of the Assembly or have the opposite effect assuming further diminution of public perception is possible ?
    Just a thought

  • PeterBrown

    Yes that seems sensible – the TUV could veto legislation with 4 signatures. Meanwhile in the real world….

  • PeterBrown

    Except that is affixed to a petition of concern (a blank cheque as it were) so the analogy is redundant

  • PeterBrown

    No in order to give nationalists and subsequently republicans a veto it wasn’t limited to discrimination – they have rarely been used for what they were intended by anyone but no-one is advocating their removal

  • William Carr

    Well surely it would be noticed if any other party was treating the democratic process so shabbily.
    What do you think about what has been proved, Its amazing to think that Peter might have a sheaf of these things to pull out whenever he feels the need to make a democratic vote invalid.

  • Heather Richardson

    The local BBC TV evening news ran the story (including screenshots of the Twitter conversation between the DUP MLA and her correspondent) so it was obviously deemed okay by the Beeb’s lawyers.

  • chrisjones2

    Whoops. But all the same its nice to see DUP Censorship alive and well.

    Do they not realise that by this they have highlighted to most people the sordid little way they manipulate the system?

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-politics-34703865

    Another reason not to vote

  • Catcher in the Rye

    The Petition of Concern business is a perversion of democracy to start with. We all voted for it in the referendum in 1998. It is not being used for what it was intended to be used for – but the legislation does not specify anything other than that the MLAs signing the petition must be “concerned”.

  • Catcher in the Rye

    No, this analogy does not work.

    If someone copies your signature from one place to another in a way that you could not reasonably have anticipated, it is straight fraud and you’ll go to jail if you’re caught doing it.

    A better analogy is writing a blank cheque. And a blank cheque, completed, is most assuredly valid if you did in fact sign it.

  • Heather Richardson

    Well spotted, Chris.

    What bugs me is that the original post on Slugger disappeared without explanation. I asked Slugger via Twitter message what had happened, but got nowhere. It’s all a bit soviet. Even a ‘this post was deleted at the poster’s request’ or ‘following legal advice we’ve removed a post’ would do. But no – it gets disappeared, and then Slugger act like it was never there at all. Very disappointing.

  • Catcher in the Rye

    Not really. The PoC is there to allow MLAs to highlight that a “matter” before the assembly should be determined on a cross community basis. It is nothing to do with the status quo, or the fact that failing to legislate creates an unequal situation.

    That is where the courts may come in.

  • Catcher in the Rye

    I think you are overcooking this a bit. MLAs sign that sheet voluntarily, knowing that the signature can be used. The DUP and SF are both very much top down parties; the culture is that the leadership decide and the MLAs follow. It really does not matter if sheet was signed six months ago or yesterday – they would still have to follow orders.

    It is the case that pre-packing the PoCs like this is an abuse of the original intent. Nothing illegal is being done but it is not the way the system was designed to be used.

  • Catcher in the Rye

    PoCs do not have to be justified or explained. An MLA merely has to be “concerned” about a “matter” before the assembly.

    And of course MLAs have to explain their actions. When they knock your door looking for your vote, you can ask them why they signed it and make your own decision about whether or not they were justified. And if you happen to be of the view that gay marriage is an abomination that has to be stopped at all costs, you may find yourself agreeing with their motivation.

  • Catcher in the Rye

    Indeed not.

    But Alliance does operate a whip – which is entirely normal and the same as other parties. If the whip is imposed and you are required to vote in a certain way, then that is how you must vote or you will face a penalty.

    This talk of “oh, the MLAs don’t get a chance to decide whether they want to oppose something or not” is a complete red herring. When it is an issue of significance a whip is imposed anyway.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    I think Korhomme was just throwing an idea into the ring not a water tight, thoroughly scrutinised, bullet proof plan.
    I think he might have a very good point and with a spot of tweaking it (or something that evolves from it) could be doable.

  • Catcher in the Rye

    there is nothing even faintly illegal about what is being done here.

  • Catcher in the Rye

    doubt there is much scope for tweaking. Not least because both the DUP and SF are happy with things the way they are.

  • chrisjones2

    I agree. I assume that if the MLA was misrepresented they are nervous but its the handling that’s the issue.

    In any case it all goes to expose the shambles

    And we really don’t need this to distract from the importance of the talks. Today they are probably tackling the vital issue of whether they should have chocolate biscuits or in an age of austerity, plain ones at all Committee tea breaks

    My last child living here is now in his 20s and has declared that he intends to seek a job in England. He says that the politics is so bad he sees no future for anyone and I have to say I agree

  • Granni Trixie

    If only it worked as simply as you describe.
    One off shoot of the internal debate on SSM (in Apni) has been to focus attention on when voting does an MLAs personal conscience trump say voters opinion or party line should there not be a free vote.
    As a rule I believe in following party line – if your in a party, follow the rules or leave. (draconian to some). However I can see the difficulty in exceptional cases when there is a clash – say voting for abortion on demand which to some is repugnant.

  • Korhomme

    It was a throwaway sort of idea.

    I understand—correct me if I’m mistaken—that the Speaker has to agree a PoC, to permit it to veto things.

    Now, suppose the Speaker questions the proposers of the PoC in the Chamber, asking for their motivations, what minorities are at risk, etc, as a means of clarifying his mind; would that be more sensible?

  • Korhomme

    Well, the DUP can be happy because they can veto anything they don’t like without consulting others—as we’ve seen here, just get the Whips out. SF do need a coalition with others, as do the other smaller parties; they might be more amenable to change.

  • Korhomme

    I can still read it in the email I got to announce the post. I can also read it in the WordPress reader thing.

  • mushroom man

    Petitions of concern were invented so as to stop the suffering of the nationalist & republican community as took place under the old Stormont regime 1921-72. In order to prevent unionist bigots discriminating against us in the North of Ireland it ought to remain. There is however, no reason why unionists should be able to exercise POCs themselves, as they never have faced discrimination.

  • PeterBrown

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-23247074
    Sort of like Durkan’s position in this – the difficulty is that who then takes the decision? It cannot be left to the Speaker

  • Heather Richardson

    Interesting. I’m going in through the main website, and it’s definitely not there!

  • Catcher in the Rye

    What you seem to be saying is that Alliance chooses not to impose a whip. that does not mean the whip does not exist and that there are no disciplinary consequences for rebelling against it when the party decides that there should be.

    Imagine an Alliance MLA voting against integrated education, or voting to fly a tricolour over Stormont. It couldn’t be tolerated.

  • Catcher in the Rye

    The DUP’s official policy, if I recall correctly, is that the PoC should be abolished. From their point of view, a person could argue that they are highlighting the system’s injustice by intentionally abusing it.

    Ironically, this means that same sex marriage is in fact being blocked by Sinn Féin’s insistence on retaining the PoC mechanism – and SF hope that they will reach the magical 30 MLA count next May.

  • Korhomme

    Thanks for the link; Durkan talks sense. Who indeed takes any decision? I can’t think of any workable solution at present.

    It does strike me that the Westminster government might have had in mind that power sharing = coalition when the Assembly was being set up. Perhaps they fondly imagined that the parties would sit round the table and come to an agreed basis for what ever was being discussed. If this was ever their idea, surely they have been totally disabused by now.

  • Kevin Breslin

    I guess the message might read to some “We don’t usually like gays, but if we had to we’d prefer they were promiscuous.”

  • Kevin Breslin

    30 for a petition of concern but 40 (10 extra) to veto legislation if it is used. That might be living dangerously for some. It wouldn’t pass equal marriage or welfare reform but Nelson McCausland would be scrutinised. 😀

  • T.E.Lawrence

    William, It comes as no surprise to me as I have always believed the DUP was a Dictatocracy Political Movement anyway, it will just make the public more pissed off with the POC political abuse ! What is of more concern to me is how many other parties play by the same poker rules and if the leader says attend the chambers for this debate/vote and keep your mouth shut. I already have your signature and have decided what way your voting kind of defeats the purpose of democracy and freedom of speech to represent the electors who may have voted for you on a personnel platform and not a party platform.

  • T.E.Lawrence

    The Party Whip was not much use when used to pull Jeremy Corbyn into line. He opposed it on over 500 occassions !

  • SeaanUiNeill

    In which case, CitR, why go through the farce of pretending that we are in any even slightly meaningful way a democracy and electing people who are supposed to represent a constituency of voters on issues. Why not simply vote for parties (perhaps by colour, to avoid confusion over names) and let them nominate the MLAs according to the proportion of votes they get.

    Or better still, why not simply avoid the expense and the inconvenience off elections and simply nominated MLAs on the percentages that focus groups offer pollsters? I know also that the OFMdFM are frequently in a position to overrule ministers decisions of “important” matters and rule by decree. Why not simply leave all governance up to them and simply have the DUP and SF nominate these two posts. It would save on the trouble and expense of holding an assembly at Stormont and avoid the silliness of having to go through debates and votes in the chamber, and then having to take the trouble of sending a secretary to a drawer to find the pre-signed form and affix it to a Petition of concern in order to negate all the discussion with a veto.

    I may be slightly overcooking this, but the problem is that I appear to be in a small minority who believe in a genuine engagement by the people, whose collective voice, not bureaucratic party structures of any hue, should determine things are done.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    No, Granni, the Alliance party are one of the small group of parties consistently attempting to make the seemingly alien concept of popular representation in a democracy actually have some serious meaning here.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    You are ignoring the process of internal debate in parties where an argued out decision is the very thing that gives the whip the authority to make a demand. The thing, CitR, is that issues should be fully discussed discussed as they come up and the collective decision may still be rejected in a personal rebellion against the whip driven by conscience, or, even at times, by constituency demand. How do you withdraw a signature pre-signed some period before on a document? This is in effect a negation of the entire concept of representation.

  • Granni Trixie

    Have I missed something ? Will you re-cap?

  • Heather Richardson

    Yesterday Kris posted a Twitter conversation between someone (their name and comments were redacted) and DUP MLA Pam Cameron on the topic of Petitions of Concern. Pam confirmed that DUP MLAs are asked to bulk sign ‘blank’ POCs in advance, so that the party can use them when they want to. The POC tabled yesterday seemed to be one of these. But Kris’s posting disappeared 🙁

  • Granni Trixie

    Thanks. Own goals all round?

  • SeaanUiNeill

    It is still out there on Disqus, Heather, and can be accessed if you have made a comment that may be used as a link to the discussion.

  • William Carr

    So let me get this right,
    Despite the fact that the DUP is actually doing this it is more concerning for you that other parties might be doing it!
    Why is it more concerning for you? i am sorry but this sounds like a subtle form of whataboutry.
    The DUP has shown its contempt for the democratic process right in front of you but that matters less to you than the thought that themmuns might do it.
    A more than strange thought process!

  • mac tire

    You don’t vote, Chris? Seriously?

  • Catcher in the Rye

    We’re a kind of a fledgling democracy. The system we have gives us training wheels. Get politicians in the debating chamber, stuff their pockets with gold, given them some power, and allow the whole thing to simmer for a while in the hope that the politicians enjoy it enough to try to sustain it and voters begin to take a serious interest in the impact that their vote has on their own life.

  • Catcher in the Rye

    Seaan, I doubt there is any internal debate within either the DUP or SF in the way that you describe. Any such debate would lead inevitably to the decision whether to deploy a petition of concern or not, and once it is deployed there is no room for dissent. This would be the case irrespective of when the PoC was actually signed. All that these sheets do is save the parties the bother of sending someone around to collect signatures from anyone.

    Incidentally there is still room for rebellion. People think the PoC cancels out the vote. It doesn’t; it simply changes the weighting of the votes. A DUP MLA feeling pangs of conscience can send out a very powerful signal by rebelling in the vote, and he or she can rebel even if they signed the PoC.

    As I’ve said, I agree that this is all bad faith and makes a joke out of the system. But don’t believe that abolishing it would have any meaningful effect at all. These parties are top down, totalitarian organisations. The only outcome of banning this practice would be that they’d have to send someone round to obtain the signatures in time for the deadline.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    We seem to fully agree on this issue, CitR. The voting habits of our fellow citizens (what I call “nothing by standing order”) ensure that we are all governed by top down parties who have contempt for the concept of democracy, and do not even begin to understand such things as the public good and the “whole community” in their knee jerk polarisation.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    I simply can not see those driving both main parties ever maturing into something different to what they are now. Certainly each can talk the talk (although both party leaders, Adams and Robinson, have had serious lapses) but neither appears to have really changed in any meaningful way.

    Perhaps my facetious suggestions to simply appoint politics graduates from our universities would produce better government, it could certainly not produce worse, and while I can see that what you describe might appear quite compelling for outsiders who do not know these people, anyone who does is unlikely to see it ever working to produce anything much different to the kind of single party (two in our situation) rule riddled with corruption that dogged post Imperial African and Asian states. I snot the definition of insanity the compulsion to repeat the same mistakes that produce failure over and over while expecting a different outcome?

  • Gwrinkle

    I see two names on that list that have committed adultery …but that’s ok in the DUPS eyes.

  • Reader

    So you’re opposed to equal rights, then. (Why should SF have the right to abuse POCs but not the DUP?)