Northern Ireland: DUP loses ‘petition of concern’ power, clearing the way for equal marriage

The socially conservative party previously had an effective veto on progressive reforms


Following a seismic election in Northern Ireland, unionists have lost their majority at Stormont for the first time ever.

Sinn Féin made the greatest gains. Going into the election, they were ten seats short of the DUP and now they lag by just one. Among the more moderate parties, the nationalist SDLP pulled ahead of the unionist UUP, whose leader announced his resignation on Friday afternoon.

The non-sectarian Alliance Party increased its share of the vote and held its eight seats, while the Green Party held its two.

But perhaps most significant for progressives is the fact that the DUP has fallen short of the 30 seats needed to trigger a controversial ‘petition of concern’.

Although the measure was introduced as a way of preventing sectarian or discriminatory legislation being passed without the consent of either community, the DUP have wielded petitions of concern as an effective veto on progressive legislation.

Most famously, the Northern Irish Assembly has repeatedly voted to legalise same-sex marriage, but the motions have blocked by the socially conservative DUP.

Marriage equality campaigners are now hopeful that Northern Ireland will soon the rest of Britain and the Republic of Ireland by legalising same-sex marriage.

It was a disastrous day overall for the DUP. The party’s loss of support could be attributable to a number of factors, including its support for Brexit and leader Arlene Foster’s involvement in the ‘Cash for Ash’ scandal.

Sinn Féin and the DUP must now begin negotiations to form a power-sharing executive, which will be challenging given the escalation of tensions between the two parties.

If a government is not formed after that period then, according to law, another election will be called.

The full breakdown of seats (from a total of 90) is as follows:

DUP: 28

Sinn Féin: 27

SDLP: 12

UUP: 10

Alliance Party: 8

Green Party: 2

Traditional Unionist Voice: 1

Independent: 1

Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by becoming a Left Foot Forward Supporter today.