Belfast Telegraph

Abortion fight not over vows DUP's Arlene Foster as Assembly meeting descends into farce

DUP Leader Arlene Foster pictured at Stormont. Credit Stephen Hamilton /Presseye
DUP Leader Arlene Foster pictured at Stormont. Credit Stephen Hamilton /Presseye
Pro-life posters at the rally held today at Stormont. Photo Laura Davison/Pacemaker Press
Pro choice campaigners backed by Amnesty International pictured at Stormont ahead of todays ruling that will decriminalise abortion in Northern Ireland. Credit Stephen Hamilton /Presseye
Gareth Cross

By Gareth Cross

DUP leader Arlene Foster described the introduction of new abortion legislation in Northern Ireland as a "shameful day".

Mrs Foster was speaking as the first meeting of the Assembly since 2017 descended into farce with parties walking out of the chamber one by one.

The meeting lasted just 51 minutes as DUP MLAs argued with Speaker Robin Newton over Assembly procedure.

An attempt by DUP MLAs to push through a Defence of the Unborn Child bill was blocked by the Speaker who said that legal advice told him Assembly business could not proceed without the election of a new Speaker and deputies on a cross-community basis.

Mrs Foster said it was "not the end of the matter" and her party would be exploring options to repeal the new legislation.

The sitting was attended by MLAs from the DUP, UUP and SDLP, alongside TUV leader Jim Allister and Independent unionist Claire Sugden.

Sinn Fein and the Alliance Party did not attend, branding the recall of the Assembly a "stunt".

DUP MLA Paul Givan said he had been advised by Attorney General John Larkin that standing orders could be suspended to push through the legislation intended to block the abortion reform.

However his party colleague and Speaker, Robin Newton, said his legal advice was that business could not proceed without the election of a Speaker.

Mr Newton said a further sitting of the Assembly would be required to consider the bill and highlighted that the suspension of standing orders required cross-community support.

Despite being asked repeatedly by DUP MLAs and party leader Mrs Foster to share his legal advice and meet the Attorney General Mr Newton refused to do so.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said that his party would not be supporting the election of a Speaker and said the way the DUP were using the Assembly risked wrecking the Good Friday Agreement.

TUV leader Jim Allister said it was a "tragedy" that the SDLP claimed to be a pro-life party but would not elect a Speaker to help stop abortion reform.

Mr Eastwood said that the Assembly could have been restored at any point in the past 1,000 days. He then led the SDLP's MLAs out of the chamber.

Following the SDLP's decison to depart Mr Givan said they had "thwarted" the election of a Speaker.

He said that he deeply regretted the Speaker's decision not to share his legal advice and that the public would fail to understand the decision of parties who did not turn up to the meeting.

An anti-abortion protestor walks with a cross at Stormont. Photo Laura Davison/Pacemaker Press
An anti-abortion protestor walks with a cross at Stormont. Photo Laura Davison/Pacemaker Press
MLAs in Stormont Assembly for first time since March 2017. Mandatory Credit Stephen Hamilton /Presseye
Pacemaker Press Belfast 21-10-2019: Pro Life campaigners pictured at Stormont ahead of todays ruling that will decriminalise abortion in Northern Ireland. Independent pro life campaigner Clive Johnston pictured with a life sized illustration of a babies progress before birth. Pictured By: Arthur Allison.
Pacemaker Press Belfast 21-10-2019: Pro-choice group arriving at the rally held today at Stormont. As of midnight tonight, same-sex marriage and abortion will become legal in Northern Ireland for the first time. Today pro-life and pro-choice groups demonstrated at Stormont. Pictured By: Arthur Allison.
Presseye.com 21/10/2019 Pro Life campaigners pictured at Stormont ahead of todays ruling that will decriminalise abortion in Northern Ireland. Mandatory Credit Stephen Hamilton /Presseye
PACEMAKER PRESS BELFAST 21/10/2019 Pro-life posters at the rally held today at Stormont. As of midnight tonight, same-sex marriage and abortion will become legal in Northern Ireland for the first time. Today pro-life and pro-choice groups demonstrated at Stormont. Photo Laura Davison/Pacemaker Press
PACEMAKER PRESS BELFAST 21/10/2019 Members of Amnesty International gathered at Stormont today in support of the decriminalisation of abortion in Northern Ireland. The deadline for Northern Ireland to block the introduction of same-sex marriage and end prosecution for women accessing abortions expires today. Speaking are Grain Teggart of Amnesty International and Sarah Ewart. Photo Laura Davison/Pacemaker Press
PACEMAKER PRESS BELFAST 21/10/2019 Pro-choice group arriving at the rally held today at Stormont. As of midnight tonight, same-sex marriage and abortion will become legal in Northern Ireland for the first time. Today pro-life and pro-choice groups demonstrated at Stormont. Photo Laura Davison/Pacemaker Press
Presseye.com 21/10/2019 Speaker Robin Newton pictured at Stormont chamber where local MLAÕs returned to the chamber to debate laws on abortion and same sex marriage which will change at midnight tonight . Mandatory Credit Stephen Hamilton /Presseye
Presseye.com 21/10/2019 UUP Leader Robin Swann pictured with party members at Stormont where local MLAÕs returned to the chamber to debate laws on abortion and same sex marriage which will change at midnight tonight . Mandatory Credit Stephen Hamilton /Presseye
Presseye.com 21/10/2019 TUV Leader Jim Allister pictured at Stormont chamber where local MLAÕs returned to the chamber to debate laws on abortion and same sex marriage which will change at midnight tonight . Mandatory Credit Stephen Hamilton /Presseye
Presseye.com 21/10/2019 Gerry Carrol from people before profit pictured at Stormont where local MLAÕs returned to the chamber to debate laws on abortion and same sex marriage which will change at midnight tonight . Mandatory Credit Stephen Hamilton /Presseye
PACEMAKER PRESS BELFAST 21/10/2019 Pro-life posters at the rally held today at Stormont. As of midnight tonight, same-sex marriage and abortion will become legal in Northern Ireland for the first time. Today pro-life and pro-choice groups demonstrated at Stormont. Photo Laura Davison/Pacemaker Press
PACEMAKER PRESS BELFAST 21/10/2019 Pro-choice group arriving at the rally held today at Stormont. As of midnight tonight, same-sex marriage and abortion will become legal in Northern Ireland for the first time. Today pro-life and pro-choice groups demonstrated at Stormont. Photo Laura Davison/Pacemaker Press
Presseye.com 21/10/2019 DUP Leader Arlene Foster pictured at Stormont chamber where local MLA’s returned to the chamber to debate laws on abortion and same sex marriage which will change at midnight tonight . Mandatory Credit Stephen Hamilton /Presseye
Pro Life and Pro Choice activists take part in a photocall in the grounds of Stormont Parliament, Belfast, the Stormont Assembly will sit for the first time in two and half years later after it was recalled by MLAs wishing to protest at changes to Northern Ireland's abortion laws. PA Photo. Picture date: Monday October 21, 2019. See PA story ULSTER Politics. Photo credit should read: Niall Carson/PA Wire
Members of Pro Life take part in a photocall in the grounds of Stormont Parliament, Belfast, the Stormont Assembly will sit for the first time in two and half years later after it was recalled by MLAs wishing to protest at changes to Northern Ireland's abortion laws. PA Photo. Picture date: Monday October 21, 2019. See PA story ULSTER Politics. Photo credit should read: Niall Carson/PA Wire
BELFAST, NORTHERN IRELAND - OCTOBER 21: Abortion-rights demonstrators march through the streets of Belfast ahead of a meeting of the Stormont Assembly on abortion rights and gay marriage on October 21, 2019 in Belfast, United Kingdom. Northern Ireland's laws banning abortion and gay marriage are set to be liberalised tonight unless its devolved government is reconstituted. (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)
BELFAST, NORTHERN IRELAND - OCTOBER 21: Abortion-rights demonstrators march through the streets of Belfast ahead of a meeting of the Stormont Assembly on abortion rights and gay marriage on October 21, 2019 in Belfast, United Kingdom. Northern Ireland's laws banning abortion and gay marriage are set to be liberalised tonight unless its devolved government is reconstituted. (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)
Pro-choice supporters pose as they gather at Parliament buildings on the Stormont Estate in Belfast on October 21, 2019. (Photo by PAUL FAITH / AFP) (Photo by PAUL FAITH/AFP via Getty Images)
BELFAST, NORTHERN IRELAND - OCTOBER 21: Abortion-rights demonstrators march through the streets of Belfast ahead of a meeting of the Stormont Assembly on abortion rights and gay marriage on October 21, 2019 in Belfast, United Kingdom. Northern Ireland's laws banning abortion and gay marriage are set to be liberalised tonight unless its devolved government is reconstituted. (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)
Arlene Foster (centre left) with DUP MLA's in Stormont Parliament buildings in Belfast, The Stormont Assembly will sit for the first time in two and half years later after it was recalled by MLAs wishing to protest at changes to Northern Ireland's abortion laws. PA Photo. Picture date: Monday October 21, 2019. In an unorthodox step, the plenary session has been convened in the ongoing absence of a powersharing executive. See PA story ULSTER Politics . Photo credit should read: Niall Carson/PA Wire
BELFAST, NORTHERN IRELAND - OCTOBER 21: Arlene Foster, Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party (L) walks past a painting of former Northern Ireland politician Ian Paisley as she attends a meeting of the Stormont Assembly on abortion rights and gay marriage on October 21, 2019 in Belfast, United Kingdom. Northern Ireland's laws banning abortion and gay marriage are set to be liberalised tonight unless its devolved government is reconstituted. (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)
BELFAST, NORTHERN IRELAND - OCTOBER 21: Two women watch a television screen as Arlene Foster, Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party speaks during a meeting of the Stormont Assembly on abortion rights and gay marriage on October 21, 2019 in Belfast, United Kingdom. Northern Ireland's laws banning abortion and gay marriage are set to be liberalised tonight unless its devolved government is reconstituted. (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)

Mr Givan said as there was no hope of appointing a Speaker the DUP would be leaving the chamber. The party departed 47 minutes into the sitting.

Before departing Mrs Foster said she was "terribly sad" about the situation.

She said that Northern Ireland would have "the most liberal abortion laws anywhere in Europe", but vowed that he party would "take every legal option available to us".

"We will do everything in our conscience to protect the lives of the unborn," the DUP leader said.

Mr Allister said that in Northern Ireland the safest place for an unborn child was no longer in its mothers womb.

UUP leader Robin Swann questioned if the Stormont institutions were worth saving following the meeting.

He called on the Secretary of State to call intensive five party talks.

Mr Swann also confirmed that a petition from UUP MLA Doug Beattie to recall the Assembly on Tuesday had gained the 30 signatures necessary, but said his party were withdrawing it after what they had witnessed on Monday.

The meeting was adjourned by Mr Newton after parties failed to nominate a new Speaker or any deputies.

See how the day unfolded in our live blog:

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