Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 21 September 2014

Editor's Viewpoint: Lack of tolerance puts us in bad light

Abortion and the rights of gay people are issues which are never far from controversy in Northern Ireland.

Polar opposite opinions are often expressed with equal conviction and it has to be recognised that in this society religious beliefs play a very important role. Opinion formers and politicians must all take into account the substantial number of people whose views on these issues could be classified as liberal.

Health Minister Edwin Poots is undoubtedly a man of strong personal convictions, but he is taking the wrong approach in challenging the |High Court decision which ruled that the ban on gay and unmarried couples adopting in Northern Ireland is discriminatory. At a time when we are all being urged to exercise fiscal prudence and when the public purse is constantly tightening, his determination to carry on the legal fight may be perceived by many as a waste of public funds.

This newspaper also finds the intervention of the province's Attorney General John Larkin in the controversy over the opening of the Marie Stopes clinic in Belfast somewhat disquieting. He has written to the Justice Committee asking it to look into the practices of the clinic and also offered his services to the committee in his non-statutory role as guardian of the rule of law. He is not allowed to intervene in his official capacity, and it is surprising to see a legal figure of his stature voluntarily becoming involved when the expectation would have been for him to stand aloof from the issue in case of some future need to adjudicate.

While the interventions of Mr Poots and Mr Larkin are entirely separate, their unfortunate conjunction in time sends out an unfortunate message. The High Court, the highest tribunal in the land, has ruled on gay adoption and found the current ban untenable. The Marie Stopes clinic says it has no intention of breaching the stringent laws here on abortion. However, and this may be an unintended consequence, the interventions create the unfortunate impression that Northern Ireland is a less tolerant place than it really is.

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