After months of talks at Stormont, a deal to save Northern Ireland’s power-sharing institutions has finally been reached.
1. This document sets out the terms of a protocol governing the use of the Petition of Concern mechanism in the NI Assembly, which has been agreed by the undersigned parties.
2. We recognise that this Protocol does not remove or mitigate the statutory entitlement conferred on Members of the Legislative Assembly in relation to petitioning the Assembly, but agree that it will only fulfil its intended purpose if adhered to by all signatory parties and operated in the spirit intended.
3. While the signatory parties acknowledge the voluntary nature of their commitment, they will honour their obligations under this protocol in good faith at all times.
4. The signatory parties have agreed to the following principles which will apply to their use of the Petition of Concern mechanism:
(i) that Petitions of Concern should only be tabled in exceptional circumstances;
(ii) that in order to minimise the incidence of the use of Petitions of Concern, Private Members’ motions tabled by members of the signatory parties should be so phrased that they do not bind the Assembly or the Executive by requiring a vote upon the matter under consideration;
(iii) to this end such business should be conducted in the form of ‘take note’ debates;
(iv) in cases where a tabled Private Members’ motion does not comply with the conditions set out at provisions outlined within paragraph 4(ii), other signatory parties will be permitted under the terms of this protocol to table a Petition of Concern on the matter under discussion;
(v) where a Petition of Concern is tabled, this should state the ground or grounds upon which it is being tabled and the nature of the detriment which is perceived as arising from an affirmative vote on the matter; and
(vi) the provisions of section 13(3) of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 and of paragraph 60 of Assembly Standing Orders relating to the referral of Bills to the Ad Hoc Committee on Conformity with Equality Requirements will continue to apply.
A Protocol governing the use of the Petition of Concern mechanism in the Assembly will be referred to the Speaker within a month of the date of this Agreement. Changes will be made to the operation of the Petition of Concern mechanism through a protocol agreed between the parties.