Voting in the Chamber
In the Assembly Chamber, votes are usually carried by a majority. When a motion is read, those in favour say ‘Aye’ and those against (contrary to) say ‘No’. If it is unclear whether the Ayes or Noes ‘have it’, or if the apparent result is challenged by MLAs, the Speaker rings the Division Bell throughout the buildings, meaning that a vote will be recorded to decide the matter. MLAs not already in the Chamber have three minutes to get there. The Speaker will then call for another ‘voice vote’. If the result remains unclear, a Division takes place. The Speaker will say, "The House will divide, Ayes to my right and Noes to my left". Members enter either the 'Aye' or the 'No' Division Lobbies to register their vote. If you don't want to vote and want it recorded that you were present but abstained from voting, then you have to go through both lobbies.
Voting in the Chamber explained
Some decisions made by the Assembly require cross-community support, which means that they must be supported by both nationalists and unionists. The voting process usually takes place in two stages. The first stage is a normal count of the Ayes and Noes. The second stage is to count the number of nationalists and unionists who support the motion. There are two ways in which cross-community support can be achieved:
- The Parallel Consent method requires 50 percent of all those voting; and 50 percent unionist support and 50 percent nationalist support.
- The Weighted Majority method requires 60 percent of all those voting; and 40 percent support from both nationalists and unionists.
The 1998 Agreement and the Northern Ireland Act (1998) list the decisions that require cross-community support:
- election of the Speaker and Deputy Speakers;
- changes to the rules of the Assembly, called Standing Orders;
- approval of the Budget;
- decisions about how many Ministers there should be and what areas of government they should be responsible for; and
- exclusion of a Minister, or members of a political party, from holding office;
- any vote subject to a Petition of Concern. This is a notice, signed by at least 30 MLAs, expressing concern about a motion. It is presented to the Speaker. If the Speaker rules that the petition of concern should apply to a motion, the vote will require cross-community support.
Q Why has the use of petitions of concern been controversial?