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E-petition for Northern Ireland 2013

Policy Briefing -  E-petition for the Northern Ireland Assembly

The Issue

One of the key features of any democracy is the ability of the people to have their voices heard by their government. The recent flags issue has brought this right to the fore of public debate.

A very simple way for the public to voice their opinion on an issue is through a petition. In Westminister an online petition system or e-petition has been set up which allows anyone to start a petition on any issue (http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/). If the number of signatories reaches 100,000 the petition is considered for a parliamentary debate. This could be a very effective way for anyone in society to become a catalyst for change. There are similar e-petition systems in some local authorities in England and the Houses of the Oireachtas in the Republic of Ireland. At the moment in Northern Ireland there is no official online system by which our people can create and present petitions to the Northern Ireland Assembly.

What we are calling for

We have asked the Northern Ireland Assembly to consider adopting an e-petition system. This would be complimented by a legislative mechanism, through which the people of Northern Ireland can create and present petitions to the Assembly. If a specific petition has gained the support of a certain number of signatures, it should spark a debate among the MLAs. The number of signatures required should be proportional to the population of Northern Ireland when compared to, for example, the UK as a whole and Westminister. For Northern Ireland that would be about 3,000 signatures, so a credible threshold might be 5,000 signatures.

This feature could easily be added to the existing NI Assembly website and would help to improve communication and increase confidence between community and government. It could be a useful tool in the cohesion sharing and integration strategy by giving a voice to marginalised voices and communities. It will increase citizen interaction and could help elected representatives to hear more clearly those issues which are important to the people they represent.

This policy has already been implemented effectively by the British and Irish Governments, creating a credible precedent.

What you can do

Contact your MLA and add your voice in support of this proposal.

Why listen to us?

For more than 160 years the Evangelical Alliance has been centred around Christian unity and advocacy. We have a credible heritage of influencing public policy for the benefit of all in society. The Evangelical Alliance has been working in Northern Ireland for the past 25 years. Peter Lynas is the director of EANI and David Smyth is public policy officer.

Please contact us to discuss this further