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24 October 2008

Statement by Traditional Unionist MEP Jim Allister:

“Tucked into the NIO Consultation, which has just closed, on “Improving the Administration of Elections to the Northern Ireland Assembly” is a radical and dangerous proposal to change how a vacancy from Northern Ireland would be filled in the European Parliament.

Since direct elections 30 years ago, any vacancy would be filled by the electorate through a by-election. Under the new proposal the electorate would be bypassed and the “nominating Officer” (Leader) of the Party to which the resigning or deceased MEP belonged, when elected, would name his/her replacement, without any recourse to the voters, nor would the name of that person ever have to have appeared on a reserve list, as occurs in Stormont Assembly elections.

Thus, within days/weeks/months after being elected an MEP he/she could resign their seat and their Party could then put in his place an individual who has never previously been advertised to the electorate. Such invites abuse and the unseemly prospect of “Trojan” candidates, which ultimately will bring the political process into disrepute. Additionally, the practice in Northern Ireland of at least one party seeking to tie its candidates to contractual terms could result in the spectacle of the elected member who “falls from grace” within his party being trundled out and an unelected placeman substituted. It is the electorate, not a cabal who should elect. Thus a proposal that someone whose name never appeared before the electorate, even on a B List, could end up being foisted on the voters is not acceptable.

There is an importance and relevance to the nexus and relationship which exists between the elected and the electors. Once the unelected can squat in the seat of the elected then that essential relationship is breached. Such would not be thought good enough for Westminster, nor is it satisfactory for the European Parliament.

I am not surprised to hear that the DUP has been urging this scheme upon the Secretary of State. As they struggle to find a high profile candidate for Europe, the option of replacing him/her, if elected, by a lesser known placeman – to allow the Trojan candidate to return to Westminster – will have its attractions. So whoever they select will have to face the question if they are pledged to see out their term, or will a slight of hand be worked upon the electorate?”

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NI politics