Petition of Concern ‘holding back’ deal between Sinn Féin and DUP

DUP leader Arlene Foster shakes hands with the North of Ireland Secretary Julian Smith at Stormont House

The petition of concern is the key sticking point in talks to restore devolved government at Stormont, the News Letter understands.

The petition is a voting mechanism designed to protect minority rights by preventing contentious legislation from passing without adequate support from both unionists and nationalists.

The mechanism has been used in the past to block laws on controversial topics such as welfare reform and same-sex marriage, and could also be used to block the passage of an Irish language act.

Several sources have now indicated that reform of the petition of concern is the key issue holding back an agreement between Sinn Fein and the DUP.

The UUP leader Steve Aiken, meanwhile, has suggested some form of “draft deal” between the DUP and Sinn Fin has been prepared.

Mr Aiken made the comment in response to a query from the News Letter about its position on possible Irish language legislation — a key stumbling block in previous talks.

In a statement, the UUP leader said: “The Ulster Unionist Party has not been privy to the latest discussions between the DUP and SF on the Irish language legislation.

“We have asked for papers and during the latest talks had repeatedly requested the text of the draft deal, but we are still waiting.”

Mr Aiken added: “I would once again reiterate that the policy of the Ulster Unionist Party towards the idea of an Irish Language Act remains the same. We respect it as a language, as we do all other languages, but we believe that there is simply no need for an Irish Language Act or indeed an Ulster Scots Act either.”

Sources close to the talks have also said the Northern Ireland Office had indicated extra money would be forthcoming from the UK Treasury to help resolve the current industrial dispute in the Northern Ireland health service.

On Thursday the Northern Ireland Secretary Julian Smith said he was “deeply disappointed” that all the parties were not yet in agreement as he singled out the DUP. The secretary of state met with the DUP in London on Friday.

Speaking to the News Letter afterwards, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said: “We had a useful and constructive meeting with the secretary of state. It was honest. Devolution has been in cold storage for three years because of a Sinn Fein boycott, yet not once did the secretary of state ever single out Sinn Fein for criticism. We have urged the secretary of state to reflect on his approach and keep focused on the long term outcome.”

With many thanks to the: Belfast News Letter and Niall Deeney for the original story 

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