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

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8 Responses to “Northern Ireland: DUP loses ‘petition of concern’ power, clearing the way for equal marriage”

  1. Martin McGrath

    People keep tweeting links to this article into my timeline, so I suppose it’s worth pointing out that there’s little-to-no prospect that the outcome of this election will “clear the way for equal marriage” in Northern Ireland, sadly.

    It’s true that the DUP don’t have the votes to trigger a petition of concern on their own – but they can certainly rely on the support of the creationist, evangelical TUV leader Jim Allister – which would give them the 30 votes they require. And the overwhelming majority of UUP MLAs opposed the last bill to introduce equal marriage and there’s every reason to believe that they’d act to block any possible change in the law.

    A moment’s research would have revealed the thrust of this article to be, at best, hopeful hot air.

  2. Jimmy Glesga

    Martin, Sinn Fein grass root members probably agree with the DUP but they are going against the grain and pretending to be different. It is amazing getting old and remembering Ireland 1969. If they move on then it should be genuine

  3. David Lindsay

    Brexit, Scotland, now also Northern Ireland, and quite possibly the abolition of the House of Lords before very long at all. If any Prime Minister could deal with three or even four constitutional crises at once, then that Prime Minister is certainly not Theresa May.

    Unless I am very much mistaken, then no one contested the elections in Northern Ireland as a dissident Republican opponent of the process itself, rather than simply as someone who had fallen out with Sinn Féin for internal reasons. The results speaks for themselves. There is now no avowedly Unionist majority at Stormont. The DUP has beaten Sinn Féin by precisely one seat.

    Sinn Féin has topped the poll even in North Antrim, both MPs for which since 1970 have been called Ian Paisley. In Belfast, all Unionists combined have only six seats, while Sinn Féin alone, so to speak, has seven. North Belfast has its first ever Nationalist majority, and a Unionist who was particularly reviled by “the Other Side” has lost his seat there. In nine of the 18 constituencies, there are more Nationalist than Unionist MLAs. In the three constituencies west of the Bann, Nationalists hold 11 of the 15 seats. The Assembly itself has been reduced by 18 seats, and 16 of those have been lost by Unionists.

    The SDLP is now the third largest party, and 12 out of 90 is a significant improvement on 12 out of 108. The election of the SDLP’s Pat Catney in Lagan Valley was jaw-dropping. And a mere 37,036 votes now separate the avowedly Unionist parties from those which are explicitly in favour of a United Ireland.

    Also of note is that while the anti-austerity Lexiteers of People Before Profit could not hold on, due to the reduction in seats, in Foyle, nevertheless they could and did retain the only seat in West Belfast to be held by anyone other than Sinn Féin.

  4. Christopher Flossman

    The results on this page are wrong.

    The DUP got 28 (SF 27, SDLP 12, UUP 10, ALNI 8, Grn 2, PBPA 1, TUV 1, Ind 1)

    The change in dynamic in stormount will be interesting as how it forces the “more moderate” UUP react within the Unionist bloc. What we need to be asking is how does Northen Irish politics & structure should evolve from this. The election was triggered by a scandal, not a break down in the peace processes. As such Westminster needs to look into reviewing the system structure to support this transition to ‘normal’ (none-sectarian) Politics.

    loosening the rules around executive forming would be an interesting step. (ending manditory Largest Nat & Unionist coalition)

  5. Alma

    This is a time of big changes! This year will be a taff year! I am curious where the humanity are heading?

  6. patrick newman

    What is so special about Arlene Foster and is the DUP so bereft of leadership material that they cannot contemplate the current incumbent stepping down until the inquiry is over, assuming she is not held directly responsible for the scandal. Is this a return to the ‘no surrender’ style of NI politics?

  7. Aoife O'Neill

    Yay! *waves rainbow flag*

  8. Jimmy Glesga

    Is the SDLD neutral or just an offshoot off Sinn Fein IRA. Pretending to be moderate. We shall see..

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