AN ATTEMPT by MPs in Westminster to introduce same-sex marriage and extend abortion rights to Northern Ireland has been described as “regrettable” by the Bishop of Limerick & Killaloe, the Rt Revd Kenneth Kearon.
On Tuesday, during a debate in the House of Commons on how Northern Ireland should be governed in the absence of the Stormont Assembly, MPs supported amendments requiring the Government to liberalise abortion and to extend marriage to same-sex couples, if the Assembly was not restored by 21 October.
Bishop Kearon, who chairs the Church of Ireland’s Church and Society Commission, said: “While the absence of an Assembly is very regrettable, it is equally regrettable that MPs at Westminster are seeking to use the opportunity to introduce Northern Ireland-specific legislation on two of the most controversial issues facing the Province.”
He said that the position of the C of I on both issues was well-known. Regarding abortion, unrestricted access was rejected, he said, and, on same-sex marriage, the Church held that marriage was defined as between a man and a woman.
The Stormont Assembly has consistently blocked legislation on both issues, prompted by the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), while the opposition, Sinn Féin, has supported such changes.
The Commons vote provoked a sharp reaction from the DUP deputy leader, Nigel Dodds. He said that any such move could prove a stumbling-block to the talks with Sinn Féin on a restored Assembly for Northern Ireland, “at a time when there are real prospects of discussions taking place between the political parties leading to an agreement for the restoration of devolution. The effect of taking decisions before agreements are reached is to skew those negotiations.”
Sinn Féin welcomed the votes at Westminster. Conor Murphy, who represents the party in the Stormont Assembly, said: “The government with jurisdiction has responsibility to deliver rights if the devolved institution is denying those rights. If the DUP continue to deny rights, then Westminster has a responsibility to legislate for these matters. It’s not our preference, but it is in the Good Friday Agreement.”