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15 April 2014

What is a Petition of Concern?

Definition
(1) A Petition of Concern in respect of any matter shall be in the form of a notice signed by at least 30 members presented to the Speaker. No vote may be held on a matter which is the subject of a Petition of Concern until at least one day after the Petition of Concern has been presented.
(2) Other than in exceptional circumstances, a Petition of Concern shall be submitted at least one hour before the vote is due to occur. Where no notice of the vote was signalled or such other conditions apply that delay the presentation of a Petition of Concern the Speaker shall determine whether the Petition is time-barred or not.
From Standing Orders
Example of a Petition of Concern

In October 2013 Rosaleen McCorley MLA tabled a motion relating to the transfer of broadcasting powers asking, "That this Assembly calls on the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure to explore with the Secretary of State the potential for transferring broadcasting powers from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to her Department and for funds for the Irish Language Broadcast Fund and the Ulster Scots Broadcast Fund to be transferred and mainstreamed." On the 25 November 2013 a petition of concern was tabled on both the motion and the amendment. You can watch the outcome below:



View the details and outcome of voting here. View the Official Report here.

Committee Review of Petitions of Concern

The Assembly and Executive Review Committee recently undertook a review of Petitions of Concern and considered the following:

  • provisions for voting on an Ad Hoc Committee on Conformity with Equality Requirements prior to the vote on a Petition of Concern.
  • the possibility of restricting the use of Petitions of Concern to certain key areas, and mechanisms that might facilitate this.
  • whether the current threshold of 30 signatures required for a Petition of Concern should be adjusted.
  • whether the Petitions of Concern mechanism should be replaced with an alternative mechanism, such as a weighted-majority vote.

The Committee concluded that:

While there was support among some Parties on the Committee for the use of the alternative mechanism of a weighted-majority vote for matters subject to a Petition of Concern, there was no consensus on this issue. Therefore, in this context, the Committee reaffirmed the following conclusion from its previous Report: “…there was no consensus for replacement of community designation [and Petitions of Concern] by, for example, a weighted-majority vote in the Assembly of 65%.”

Although there was some support among the Parties represented on the Committee for restricting the use of Petitions of Concern to key areas, there was no consensus among the Committee on how that would operate.

The Committee agreed that, should the number of MLAs in the Assembly be reduced, there should be a proportional change in the number of MLA signatures required to trigger a Petition of Concern.

While there was some support among the Committee for taking a vote on the establishment of an ACER only when a Petition of Concern relates to legislation, there was no consensus on this issue.

Even though there was some support for the establishment of a Standing Committee on Equality and Human Rights Conformity to replace the Ad Hoc Committee mechanism referred to in Standing Orders 35 and 60, there was no consensus on this issue.

It is important to highlight that although the Committee did not achieve consensus for most of its conclusions on this complex subject, the Report sets out in some detail the options considered together with the individual Party positions on specific options. The Committee therefore sees that this Report provides valuable information for the Assembly to reach a way forward on this matter.

Download the full report.

Knowledge Exchange Seminar: Petitions of Concern - Dr Alex Schwartz (QUB)

The Assembly's Research and Information Service (RaISe) run a Knowledge Exchange Seminar Series with the aim of encouraging debate and improving understanding. As part of the series, Dr Alex Schwartz (QUB) gave a presentation in March 2014 discussing the criticism of petitions of concern; that they are unfair, prone to abuse and impede legislative productivity. You can watch Dr Schwartz's presentation below:



You can also view the policy briefing and view Dr Schwartz's presentation.