Same-sex marriage referendum in NI could break political impasse – Fianna Fail

A commitment to hold a referendum on marriage equality in Northern Ireland may be a way of breaking the political logjam in the region, the leader of Ireland’s main opposition party has said.

Fianna Fail leader Michael Martin also backed the SDLP’s proposition to suspend the petition of concern in the Assembly as another way of allowing powersharing government in the region to resume.

He made the remarks at the party’s annual Easter Rising commemoration at Arbour Hill in Dublin on Sunday.

Fianna Fail leader Michael Martin speaking at Arbour Hill in Dublin
Fianna Fail leader Michael Martin speaking at Arbour Hill in Dublin

In his speech, Mr Martin said: “The use of the petition of concern to block marriage equality or other measures designed to respect rights not undermine them is an unquestionable abuse.”

The mechanism was designed to ensure that contentious legislation could only be introduced with cross-community support.

Opponents of the device argued it was used to block legislation, such as abortion and welfare reform.

“Alternatively, an immediate commitment to a referendum which would quickly follow restoration might be a way out – and a large majority in Westminster would quickly enable the required legislation,” he added.

The ongoing ban on same-sex marriage in the region has divided the parties.

Political leaders have come under significant pressure to restore the institutions following the killing of journalist Lyra McKee in Derry.

At her funeral last week, Catholic priest Father Martin Magill challenged politicians as to why it had taken the death of the 29-year-old, who was shot by dissident republicans, to unite them.

It is now more than two years since powersharing in Northern Ireland collapsed amid controversy over a renewable heat incentive.

On Friday the British and Irish governments confirmed a new round of political talks aimed at re-establishing institutions in the region would begin on May 7. All of the main parties will be invited.

Mr Martin told the crowd gathered that Fianna Fail welcomed the decision of the two governments to re-engage more actively with the parties.

“Clearly, Sinn Fein and the DUP have deep problems with how they deal with each other as well as other parties,” he said.

“No matter how much people try to claim otherwise, they (the institutions) weren’t pulled down on high principle or to improve democratic legitimacy, they were pulled down to score political points.”

After his address, Mr Martin told reporters: “We agree with the SDLP proposition about the suspension of the petition of concern as a basis for the immediate restoration of the Assembly and the Executive.

“An alternative idea, if this would break the logjam, would be an immediate commitment to a referendum on marriage equality which might be a way to deal with the issue.”

Mr Martin added that the institutions should never have been collapsed over the heating scandal.

“When scandals happen in any political system or within any government, you deal with the scandal, you have the inquiry but you don’t collapse parliament and I think that was a fundamental mistake that was made,” he said.