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Abortion and gender law to change in Northern Ireland by default

22 October 2019


Supporters of equal marriage and the removal of anti-abortion laws, among them Martha Brown and Louise McCullough, celebrate the moment at midnight on Monday, when the opportunity to block the Executive Formation Act passed

Supporters of equal marriage and the removal of anti-abortion laws, among them Martha Brown and Louise McCullough, celebrate the moment at midnight on...

ABORTION, same-sex marriage, and civil partnerships for couples of different sexes are now to become legal in Northern Ireland, after the failure of the parties in the Northern Ireland Assembly to return to business after more than 1000 days in suspension.

The Archbishop of Armagh, Dr Richard Clarke, has criticised the imposition of legislation from Westminster.

In July, the UK Parliament passed the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Act, which stipulated that, unless the Assembly had reconvened by 21 October, the Province’s laws concerning abortion and same-sex relationships would be brought into line with those in England and Wales.

The two main parties, Sinn Féin and the Democratic Unionist Party, whose disagreements led to the collapse of the Assembly in 2016, could not agree to a plan to come together for one day, 21 October, to block the passage of the Act, although enough DUP/UP members turned up, together with a few SDLP members.

The Unionist move was doomed to failure, however, as the outgoing Speaker, Robin Newton, ruled that cross-community support would be necessary for the election of a new speaker and deputy speaker.

The other parties, Sinn Féin, Alliance, the Green Party, and People Before Profit, declined to attend. Sinn Féin described the DUP move as a “cynical political stunt”.

Their resistance was ideological. The deputy leader of Sinn Féin, Michelle O’Neill, commented: “I wish that the DUP and others put as much creativity into actually trying to make power-sharing work as they have done today in an attempt to deny people their rights.” She congratulated activists who had worked to decriminalise women who sought abortions, and end what she described as an “archaic law”.

Dr Clarke said on Tuesday: “Sadly, the opportunity for the Northern Ireland Assembly to consider the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Act has now passed. This reinforces the absolute necessity — so often pressed for by church leaders over the past two years and more — for our political leaders to work together for the restoration of the Executive and Assembly.

PAOpponents to the changes in the law protest outside the Stormont building on Monday

“Sensitive social issues and the wider welfare of the people of Northern Ireland should be the solemn responsibility of our locally elected representatives.

“The Northern Ireland Office consultation on the specific regulations to be implemented in the wake of this legislation should now be a matter for conscientious engagement by all our people.

“We continue to pray for our politicians, but we pray also for all who will be affected by this legislation, imposed as it is from elsewhere.”

Also on Tuesday, the Roman Catholic Bishops in Northern Ireland issued a statement in which they laid the blame for the enacting of the Executive Formation Act on Irish politicians. This followed a joint statement earlier this month (News, 4 October).

The new statement said: “This is a tragic day for the unborn children who will now never bless our world with their unique and precious lives. It is also a sad day for our local democracy.

“For the past three months, with tens of thousands of others, we have been calling on our political representatives to restore the NI Assembly, not only to address the pressing economic, social, health, welfare, and educational issues of these times, but especially also to debate and halt the abortion legislation which was rushed through the Westminster Parliament in July 2019.

“To describe as a ‘stunt’ the efforts of thousands of citizens from all sections of our community to make use of the democratic system to address an issue of such fundamental importance is deeply offensive. The unavoidable truth is that our locally elected representatives had the time and the power to prevent this draconian Westminster abortion legislation being introduced over the heads of local citizens but chose not to do so.

“It is the duty of citizens to hold their elected representatives accountable for the decisions they have made.”

The DUP leader, Arlene Foster, has vowed to explore all legal avenues to reverse the legislation.

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