Online petitions to Northern Ireland assembly may soon be possible

Stormont Parliment Buildings. Picture by Mal McCann
Gareth McKeown

PEOPLE in Northern Ireland will soon be able to petition the assembly online, similar to systems in Scotland, Wales and at Westminster.

The Assembly Commission has confirmed that an e-petitions facility is planned after the issue was raised by Upper Bann MLA Jo-Anne Dobson.

Online petitions can be launched on the Welsh Assembly, Scottish Parliament and UK government websites but not at Stormont.

If a petition at Westminster gains 10,000 signatures the government will respond, and if it reaches 100,000 it is considered for debate in parliament.

Mrs Dobson said she tabled the question on behalf of constituents who felt that Northern Ireland was "out of step" with the rest of the UK.

"I believe that an enhanced public petitions system at the assembly would bring politics closer to people and lead to greater accountability of the Executive in their decision making," she said

In response, a spokesman from the commission said: "During the last mandate, the Committee on Procedures agreed a report on the Review of Public Petitions Procedures which recommended, amongst other things, that the existing public petitions process should be enhanced by the inclusion of an e-petitions facility to permit submission of petitions without requiring sponsorship of a political party.

"On 1 March 2016 the Assembly approved both this and the other recommendations in the report.

"The current Committee on Procedures is giving consideration to these recommendations with a view to introducing an e-petitions facility in due course.

"The Assembly Commission will provide the necessary resources to facilitate whatever e-petition facility is agreed and introduced."

Ms Dobson said: "I very much welcome the work which has already been taken forward by the procedures committee to enhance the current petitions system at Stormont which includes a recommendation to introduce an e-petitions system."

Petitions can be lodged online on the UK Government, Welsh Assembly and Scottish Parliament websites. An e-petition is set to be introduced on the Northern Ireland Assembly website in "due course"

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