Skip to main content
    • Aa
    • Aa

The Use and Abuse of Veto Rights in Power-Sharing Systems: Northern Ireland’s Petition of Concern in Comparative Perspective


This article assesses the articulation of vital ethno-national interests and the use and abuse of veto rights in deeply divided societies. In consociational theory, veto rights represent the primary means by which ethnic groups defend their ‘vital interests’, though they are often criticized for rewarding extremism and producing institutional instability. Situating a case study of Northern Ireland in a comparative perspective, I consider two lines of veto practice: liberal vs corporate (i.e. who has veto rights?) and permissive vs restrictive (i.e. to what issue areas do vetoes apply?), to assess what political incentives, if any, they offer for moderation and stability. Drawing from a review of the legislative debates when a veto was enacted and on semi-structured interviews with members of the Northern Ireland Assembly, I argue that a permissive approach, in which groups can determine their own vital interests, can contribute to moderation, peace and stability in divided societies.

Hide All

Allison McCulloch is Associate Professor of Political Science at Brandon University. Contact email:

Linked references
Hide All

This list contains references from the content that can be linked to their source. For a full set of references and notes please see the PDF or HTML where available.

B. Bahtić-Kunrath (2011), ‘Of Veto Players and Entity-Voting: Institutional Gridlock in the Bosnian Reform Process’, Nationalities Papers, 39(6): 899923.

R.S. Conley and C. Dahan (2013), ‘Legislative Behaviour in the Northern Ireland Assembly, 2007–11: Conflict and Consensus in a Developing Consociational Democracy’, Political Studies, 61(S1): 179197.

C. Hartzell and M. Hoddie (2003), ‘Institutionalizing Peace: Power Sharing and Post-Civil War Conflict Management’, American Journal of Political Science, 47(2): 318332.

A. Jarstad (2008), ‘Power-Sharing: Former Enemies in Joint Government’, in A. Jarstad and T. Sisk (eds), From War to Democracy: Dilemmas of Peacebuilding (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press): 105133.

C. McCrudden , J. McGarry , B. O’Leary and A. Schwartz (2016), ‘Why Northern Ireland’s Institutions Need Stability’, Government and Opposition: An International Journal of Comparative Politics, 51(1): 3058.

J. McGarry and B. O’Leary (2007), ‘Iraq’s Constitution of 2005: Liberal Consociation as Political Prescription’, International Journal of Constitutional Law, 5(4): 670698.

P. Mitchell , G. Evans and B. O’Leary (2009), ‘Extremist Outbidding in Ethnic Party Systems is Not Inevitable: Tribune Parties in Northern Ireland’, Political Studies, 57(2): 297421.

I. O’Flynn (2010), ‘Deliberative Democracy, the Public Interest, and the Consociational Model’, Political Studies, 58: 572589.

M. Ram and K.W. Strøm (2014), ‘Mutual Veto and Power-Sharing’, International Area Studies Review, 17(4): 343358.

U. Schneckener (2002), ‘Making Power-Sharing Work: Lessons from Successes and Failures in Ethnic Conflict Regulation’, Journal of Peace Research, 39(2): 203228.

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Government and Opposition
  • ISSN: 0017-257X
  • EISSN: 1477-7053
  • URL: /core/journals/government-and-opposition
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *



Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 1
Total number of PDF views: 29 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 235 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between 3rd April 2017 - 23rd September 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.