Northern Ireland news

Referendum on same-sex marriage may solve political impasse, says Micheál Martin

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin made the comments at an Easter Rising commemoration in Dublin

ACOMMITMENT to hold a referendum on marriage equality in Northern Ireland may be a way of breaking the political logjam, Micheál Martin has said.

The Fianna Fáil leader also backed the SDLP’s proposition to suspend the petition of concern in the assembly as another way of allowing power-sharing government to resume.

The remarks, made at the party’s annual Easter Rising commemoration at Arbour Hill in Dublin yesterday, came ahead of a planned campaign walkabout in Belfast today between the leaders of the two parties as voters prepare to go to the polls in council elections in the north on Thursday.

The two parties announced a “policy partnership” arrangement in January but insisted they were not merging.

The move led to opposition from some SDLP representatives, with South Belfast MLA Claire Hanna resigning from the party’s assembly group and stepping aside as Brexit spokesperson.

In his speech yesterday, Mr Martin said: “The use of the petition of concern to block marriage equality or other measures designed to respect rights not undermine them is an unquestionable abuse.”

The mechanism was designed to ensure that contentious legislation could only be introduced with cross-community support.

Political leaders have come under significant pressure to restore the institutions following the killing of journalist Lyra McKee in Derry.

It is now more than two years since power-sharing

A new round of political talks aimed at re-establishing institutions is to begin on May 7.

“Clearly, Sinn Féin and the DUP have deep problems with how they deal with each other as well as other parties,” Mr Martin said.

“No matter how much people try to claim otherwise, they [the institutions] weren’t pulled down on high principle or to improve democratic legitimacy, they were pulled down to score political points.”

After his address, Mr Martin told reporters: “We agree with the SDLP proposition about the suspension of the petition of concern as a basis for the immediate restoration of the assembly and the executive.

“An alternative idea, if this would break the logjam, would be an immediate commitment to a referendum on marriage equality which might be a way to deal with the issue.”

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