SDLP leader seeks support for proposal to revive power sharing

The temporary suspension of a controversial veto mechanism could revive the Northern Ireland Assembly, the SDLP’s leader said.

Colum Eastwood said pausing the petition of concern would give enough space to allow power sharing government to resume.

Speaking at Stormont a day after a priest at the funeral of murdered journalist Lyra McKee challenged politicians to revive the Assembly more than two years after its collapse, Mr Eastwood said it is “time to act”.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood, accompanied by deputy leader Nichola Mallon, has proposed suspending a controversial veto mechanism to revive the Northern Ireland Assembly. (Rebecca Black/PA)

Ms McKee was killed by dissident republican terrorist group the New IRA last week.

“We can no longer allow the inactions of politicians to have dangerous effects on the streets, we can no longer allow the fact that we don’t have a government to destroy our education system, to destroy our health service, to allow welfare cuts to be crippling our communities,” Mr Eastwood said.

“Condemnation is good, standing together is great but doing nothing after that is meaningless.

“We should all be ashamed that we have created the context that allows things like that to happen.”

Eastwood: The time to return to power sharing is now

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— SDLP (@SDLPlive) April 25, 2019

He told reporters at Stormont on Thursday that he has spoken to Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney about his proposal.

He said he plans to have a conversation with Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley later, and urged the other parties to back his proposal.

“Today, the SDLP is proposing the suspension of the Petition of Concern (POC) mechanism for the remainder of this Assembly in order to legislate for rights and for all of our futures through the democratic mandate handed to us by the people of Northern Ireland,” he said.

“We are also proposing that while the temporary suspension takes place, a meaningful review of the POC is conducted with experts to find agreement on how to protect rights and stop any future abuse of the mechanism.

“The SDLP has the legislation ready to bring progress and equality – we can begin to enact it on the Assembly’s very first day back.

Lyra McKee funeral
DUP leader Arlene Foster with Sinn Fein’s Mary Lou McDonald and Michelle O’Neill before the funeral service for murdered journalist Lyra McKee at St Anne’s Cathedral in Belfast. (PA)

“This proposal threatens no-one. It is about creating the space to get parties back into Stormont to take decisions affecting all of our lives. It is clear there is an Assembly majority to resolve the outstanding issues if we remove the veto.

“We need to bring our people back together, we need to bring our government back together.

“This is a time for leadership, for courage and for compromise.”

In previous sessions of the Assembly, the petition of concern was used to force that votes on proposed legislation could only pass if supported by at least 40% of both nationalists and unionists.

It was designed to ensure that contentious legislation can only be introduced with cross-community support.

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

The Northern Ireland Assembly collapsed in January 2017 following a breakdown in relations between the leading parties, the Democratic Unionists and Sinn Fein.

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