Northern Ireland news

Alliance urges changes to assembly voting system

Alliance MLA Kellie Armstrong. Picture by Hugh Russell

THE Stormont assembly's cross-community voting system should be changed to reflect a “more mature” Northern Ireland, according to the Alliance Party.

The move would mean changes to the Good Friday Agreement, which set out the parallel consent and weighted majority mechanisms that have applied for more than 20 years.

The voting arrangements were designed to prevent domination by a majority.

Under the assembly's designation system there are currently 40 unionists, 39 nationalists and 11 others.

Strangford MLA Kellie Armstrong said the votes of those MLAs designated as ‘other' were “outside the voting system” and under the current rules, those whose designation was neither nationalist or unionist would be unable to elect a first minister even if they were the largest bloc.

“It's time to change that because we are a more mature and different Northern Ireland and the 2021 census is likely to see fewer people describing themselves as nationalist and unionist and more as something else – our voting system should therefore reflect that,” she said.

“The designation system means you have to have segregation in order for it to exist – it's discrimination.”

Ms Armstrong said a weighted majority could be retained but that “all votes should be in the mix”.

She said any change would require the “will of all the executive” and “tweaks” to the Good Friday Agreement.

The Alliance MLA pointed out that the DUP had advocated majority voting in the past but she was sceptical about the larger parties' willingness to support any change.

“When you've got a voter base that's corralled by that division then you're going to protect that system but what have they got to fear?” she said.

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Northern Ireland news