Thursday 23 May 2019

North needs Citizens' Assembly to break gay marriage deadlock - Durkan

Recommendation: Durkan praised Assembly. Photo: Damien Eagers/INM
Recommendation: Durkan praised Assembly. Photo: Damien Eagers/INM
John Downing

John Downing

A Citizens' Assembly like the one used to examine issues like same-sex marriage in the Republic should be established to help break the deadlock in the North, former deputy first minister Mark Durkan has said.

As a renewed effort is made to restore power-sharing via fresh all-party talks beginning tomorrow, Mr Durkan has said a Citizens' Assembly can "help Democratic Unionist Party and Sinn Féin out of the corners they are in" on various key issues like gay marriage and recognition of the Irish language.

The Dublin European Parliament Fine Gael candidate argues the model worked well resolving issues like same-sex marriage and abortion in the Republic. He said such a forum was provided for in the 1998 Good Friday Agreement and could operate both within the North and on a cross-Border basis.

Mr Durkan, who led the SDLP and was a member of both the Stormont and Westminster parliaments, also called for legislation in the UK parliament to govern the operation of the so-called Petition of Concern. He said the mechanism introduced in the 2006 St Andrews Agreement was meant to be governed by a special Stormont parliamentary committee who would examine disputed issues and hear independent evidence.

"It was supposed to be about testing sensitive issues - not about blocking or vetoing.

"The way it has turned out, it's an obstacle to things happening - a sort of dead end veto," Mr Durkan told the Irish Independent.

Mr Durkan, who represented Derry for many years, said the murder of journalist Lyra McKee there had made the new all-party talks unavoidable for both the Democratic Unionist Party and Sinn Féin.

"All parties picked up the mood that it wasn't enough to be seen in Creggan - they had to sit down and begin talking," he said.

He unreservedly condemned the killing and the violence by so-called dissident republicans in his native city.

"The graffiti threatening and intimidating people shows they know they do not have popular support," he said.

Mr Durkan said a citizens' assembly was provided for as a so-called Civic Forum which operated for a number of years. But it was lost on one occasion after power-sharing was suspended in 2002 and never revived.

The cross-Border element was provided for in a proposed north-south consultative forum which was never set up.

"These structures could help resolve the contentious issues like language and same-sex marriage," he said.

"It could help with some of the issues which the parties have got themselves into such corners about. It could bring light to matters which are lost in the fog of inter-party politics," Mr Durkan said.

Irish Independent

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