Stormont vote mechanism reform ‘could be helpful’ to avoid handing DUP veto

Reform of a contentious Stormont voting mechanism could be “helpful” in addressing concerns about handing the DUP a veto over post-Brexit arrangements, the Northern Ireland Secretary has suggested.

Julian Smith said there were “many ways” to achieve the consent of Assembly Members for the proposed all Ireland regulatory system.

The Irish Government is among those who have expressed fears that the petition of concern voting mechanism could essentially hand one Northern Ireland party, potentially the DUP, the ability to block the plan, even if a majority of MLAs support it.

Boris Johnson wants to give the currently defunct Northern Ireland Assembly a vote both on whether to opt into the all-island regulatory system in 2021 and whether to remain in it after an initial four-year period.

The petition of concern essentially allows a bloc of Assembly Members from either the nationalist or the unionist community a veto on certain decisions, even if they represent a minority in the chamber.

The petition of concern could hand one party – potentially the DUP – an effective veto, even if there is an opposing majority of MLAs (Paul Faith/PA)

Mr Smith is currently trying to reignite flagging efforts to restore powersharing in Northern Ireland after almost three years without a devolved legislature.

Ahead of talks with some of the parties on Friday at Hillsborough Castle in Co Down, he was asked whether reforming the petition of concern as part of any deal to resurrect Stormont could help address concerns about the Brexit deal.

“That could be helpful,” he said.

“I’ve always said that I thought consent could be an important part of unlocking this Brexit conundrum.”

He added: “I am not going to go into the detail of the negotiation with the EU but the Good Friday Agreement is very clear on consent – it means one party not dominating.

“But I think there are many ways of actually achieving it, and I think we have to really ensure that the parties keep talking and we get them back in the room, that we get them back into Stormont.

“And how that resolves itself in terms of Brexit, I think, will be a matter for the coming weeks for the negotiation team.”

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