Underhanded Use of Petition of Concern

A reader has written the following:
Over the past months you have been trying to get the public more interested in politics in Northern Ireland. This is a super idea because politics shapes our everyday life and the more people get involved the better we can collectively run the country.
There are a lot of issues that have not been going well like the Water crisis and the Budget but the single worst totally undemocratic action by any party is the activating of “Petition of Concern” by the DUP on the Local Government (Disqualification) Bill.
This was not what this clause was meant for and it was disgraceful and dishonest. The wording of the Good Friday Agreement lets underhanded use of “Petition of Concern” but using it on a Bill that received Cross party and Cross community support takes away from the integrity and spirit of Stormont itself.
My question is: “Is there anything being done to stop this abuse of process in the future by unprincipled MLA’s?”
The Speaker received a valid Petition of Concern (in accordance with section 42 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 and the Assembly’s Standing Order 28) relating to the Local Government (Disqualification) Bill on the 6th of December 2010. These provisions relate to a vote on any matter and therefore the presentation of a petition of concern in this case was in order.
What is a Petition of Concern?
A notice signed by at least 30 MLAs, and presented to the Speaker, expressing concern about a matter, usually in respect of a motion before the Assembly. No vote may be held on the matter until at least one day after the petition has been presented and the issue can then only be passed if it achieves cross-community support.
Learn more about this Standing Order.

NI Water Debacle

A reader submitted the following:

There are surely a number of people in the firing line in the current NI water debacle. While the senior management are rightly responsible for the response and communication issues, I certainly believe that as a public body NI Water should have emergency and contingency planning.
Where is the ministerial input in this as this has failed?
Also for short term popularity the Assembly has deferred water charges affecting infrastructure upgrades. For this the Assembly Members who voted for this delay are surely to blame.
Also why has it taken until 30th December for an emergency session at Stormont while citizens have been in dire need for over a week?

Just to clarify, the session the reader refers to was actually a meeting of the Executive and not the NI Assembly.

The Regional Development Committee (which undertakes a scrutiny, policy development and consultation role with respect to the Department for Regional Development) will meet on Thursday 6 January 2011 to be “briefed from the Chief Executive of Northern Ireland Water on the handling of severe winter weather conditions and ongoing supply issues”.  Find out more at http://www.niassembly.gov.uk/

Has the Green Party lost the plot?

A reader has written the following:

Has the Green Party lost the plot?

They have one MLA and what is he trying to do but bring in a Hunting Ban Bill that is a copy of possibly the worst piece of law ever to be passed in government history.  The hunting act has nothing to do with animal welfare and all to do with class war. The green party says it causes suffering to chase a hare or a fox with a dog.

Number one, prove it and number two why is it not then cruel to chase a rabbit with the same dog?

My point is this, why should I change my life to suit another just because they don’t agree with me? After years of one sided arguments in Northern Ireland resulting in one sided laws do we really want more?

I’ll end with one for anyone who cares.

10 years ago there were no hares in 99 percent of county down now they are thriving and its through gun clubs and a few dog men and their reintroduction work and not a ban on coursing.

What do you think? The Bill in question can be found on the Assembly’s website and one of its stated objectives is “The Bill will prohibit the hunting of wild mammals with dogs except where it is carried out in accordance with the conditions of an exemption”.

June 2010 Web Stats

image showing 87,029 visits; 457,907 pageviews; and 5.26 pages per visit

This post is part of our ongoing commitment to publish web stats for www.niassembly.gov.uk (“the site”).

During the month of June the site recorded 1:
87,029 visits 3;
457,907 pageviews 4; and
an average of 5.26 pages per visit.


87.00% of users to the website use Internet Explorer;
7.15% use Firefox;
2.52% use Chrome; and
2.34% use Safari.

As you would expect, Windows is the dominant operating system accounting for 96.17% of visits to the site with 2.26% of visitors using OS X (Apple).

43.28% of our users have a screen resolution of 1280 (width)  x 1024 (height), while 27.66% have a resolution of 1024 x 768.

There have been 777 visits to the website from mobile devices. The iPhone is the most popular device with 409 visits, Android is second with 124. In total OS X (iPhone, iPod, iPad) account for 529 of the 777 visits (68%).

The monthly web stats overview is available to download here (PDF) and you can view the top 500 pages here (PDF).

1 The Assembly currently uses Google Analytics to evaluate usage of www.niassembly.gov.uk. However, you can choose to opt out of this data collection by installing a browser add-on. The Google Analytics site has more information on this here.
2A Visitor is a construct designed to come as close as possible to defining the number of actual, distinct people who visited a website.
3 Visits: The number of times your visitors have been to your site
4 A page view is an instance of a page being loaded by a browser.

Government and Official Opposition

A reader has asked the following question:

Are there any plans in the pipeline which would see a change in the consociationalist coalition towards a government and official opposition system within the Northern Ireland Assembly?

The system of government used in Northern Ireland was established in the Northern Ireland Act 1998, signed by both the UK and Irish Governments.
For further information about the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement (PDF) which preceeded the Northern Ireland Act and the 2006 St Andrews Agreement (PDF), please contact the Northern Ireland Office, www.nio.gov.uk

What are your views on this subject?

MLA Attendance

I would like to know how many members are required to attend the various sessions and debates and how we can find out whether and how they voted.

It seems that there is no accountability and if a member fails to attend there is no record or consequence.

On 22nd June there was a vote on the Wildlife and Natural Environment Bill but only 41 of a possible 108 MLAs were in attendance.  How can a vote be held with fewer than half of the members present?

Why is the Northern Ireland Assembly debating the current situation/crisis in the Middle East?

A reader has submitted the following question:

Why is the Northern Ireland  ‘Local’ Assembly debating the current situation/crisis in the Middle East?
I cannot see the relevance of our elected Local Assembly Members wasting public money and time to discuss something that does not have a bearing on the people of Northern Ireland.
Our Assembly finds it hard enough to agree upon and debate important issues that have a bearing on our lives, e.g education, but can organised a debate on something occurring half a world away.
Once again our MLAs have shown they have lost the plot in terms of what the electorate of NI needs.

For those who may not be aware, the Assembly held a special sitting on Friday 4th of June to discuss the following motion:

That this Assembly, conscious of the presence of Nobel laureate Mairead Corrigan Maguire on board the MV Rachel Corrie, calls on Israel to conform with international human rights norms and joins with the British and Irish Governments in condemning the disproportionate actions by Israel earlier this week; recognises that every nation has the right to defend itself but that each nation also has a responsibility to respect and comply with international law; and further calls on Israel to ensure that humanitarian efforts in Gaza are facilitated, that an immediate end to the blockade is effected and that the MV Rachel Corrie is given safe passage to Gaza.

You can find the Official Report of the discussion on this webpage.

MLAs, as elected representatives of the people of Northern Ireland, debate many issues of concern. The situation in Gaza is of great interest and it is not unusual that MLAs should debate this issue and add their views to the views of others from across the world.

We publish a list (updated weekly) of proposed motions for debate, which are called No Day Named Motions.  A no day named motion is the term given to a motion for which no date has been fixed for debate and are published on this page http://www.niassembly.gov.uk/io/noday.htm.