Cross-community Vote

Oral Answers to Questions — The Executive Office – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:30 pm on 16 November 2020.

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Photo of Thomas Buchanan Thomas Buchanan DUP 2:30, 16 November 2020

T6. Mr T Buchanan asked the First Minister and deputy First Minister to respond to criticisms levelled by parties over the weekend and today about so-called abuse of the cross-community vote. (AQT 666/17-22)

Photo of Arlene Foster Arlene Foster DUP

Given our history in Northern Ireland, a number of protections are built into the operating of the Assembly and Executive. There is also an obligation in the ministerial code to try to seek consensus rather than to simply drive through controversial matters by a simple majority. That protection is written into the Northern Ireland Act 1998 to ensure that sufficient consensus is achieved. That safeguard can be triggered by any three Ministers of any parties when they are opposed to a course of action on any topic.

The determining factor subsequently becomes the fairly blunt tools — I accept that — of parallel consent or weighted majority. However, it is lawful that that is used, and any impression created that the sufficient consensus requirement applies only to so-called unionist or nationalist issues is entirely bogus and is, frankly, at odds with the Northern Ireland Act. People might like to revisit the Northern Ireland Act and have a look at it.

Photo of Thomas Buchanan Thomas Buchanan DUP

I thank the Minister for her response. Was a change in that voting mechanism an issue in the three years of negotiations to restore the Executive?

Photo of Arlene Foster Arlene Foster DUP

Not that I am aware of. The only suggestion that I recall was from one of the smaller parties to reduce the threshold for such protections from three Ministers to two. We all know that there are those who want to apportion blame on the use of vetoes and all the rest of it. The truth is that we should never have got to that point, and I hope that, in our discussions in the coming days, which, again, will be difficult and controversial, we can get to a position without the need to invoke any of that.