Green Party’s Bailey on changing shape of Stormont

Green Party MLA Clare Bailey in the UTV studio. Credit: UTV
  • Clare Bailey on the Green Party's success, the petition of concern, and legacy issues facing Stormont

The Green Party’s Clare Bailey may have been the last MLA to be elected, but that result in South Belfast has played its part in a major shift - helping to deny a single party the use of the petition of concern.

Thirty MLAs are required to deploy the petition of concern and no party reached that quota.

The mechanism has been used, for example, by the DUP to block changes to legislation on marriage equality for same-sex couples.

However, with the DUP now down to 28 seats, they would require outside support to keep using the petition - even with the backing of TUV leader Jim Allister.

While various loses across Northern Ireland will have played their part, the very last seat to be declared proved crucial.

The DUP hoped to see Emma Little Pengelly returned in South Belfast, alongside party colleague Christopher Stalford.

That would have given them 29 seats overall and, with TUV support, put the petition of concern within reach.

But that was not to be and, in the early hours of Saturday, the DUP candidate was eliminated and Green Party representative Clare Bailey ultimately won out over the UUP’s Michael Henderson.

“It was very touch and go – right down to the wire,” she told UTV.

“There’s an important message there if anyone ever doubted the value of their vote. I learned last night that every vote counts.

“There was a hashtag going around on election day trying to encourage everybody to vote right down the ballot slip and it was #votetilyouboke, so even if you have to hold your nose!”

Ms Bailey noted that, last time same-sex marriage was debated at the Assembly, it was backed by the majority – but defeated by the petition of concern.

But she added that the Green Party, which saw both of its MLAs returned after leader Steven Agnew was elected in North Down, has already been working with other parties on the issue.

“We’re already working on bringing forward a Private Members’ Bill, but that was with other parties – Sinn Féin, SDLP, Alliance and UUP support with that as well,” Ms Bailey said.

However, with other legacy issues proving a major stumbling block, she also said that it was important for political parties to get in step with the electorate.

Outlining her view that victims and survivors had made greater strides towards reconciliation than politicians, she added: “I think society in general is so far ahead of our politics and politicians.

“We can solve our problems if we listen to our people. And if we’re not listening to our people, what is our politics doing?”