Abortion row Tyrone GAA Mickey Harte told to stick to football after urging Assembly to ensure clinics cannot carry out terminations
GAA football manager Mickey Harte has been told to "stick to the GAA", after he weighed into Northern Ireland's increasingly bitter abortion debate.
The Tyrone manager has appealed to politicians to support a plan which would prevent private clinics carrying out pregnancy terminations here.
A proposal to be put to the Assembly would restrict abortions to procedures carried out under the NHS and only in exceptional circumstances.
It follows the opening of Northern Ireland's first Marie Stopes private clinic in Belfast, which offers medical, non-surgical, abortions up to nine weeks.
Sinn Fein and Alliance MLA Anna Lo have slammed the move by the DUP's Paul Givan and Alban Maginness from the SDLP.
In the latest development, Mr Harte – well known for his support of the pro-life lobby – called on politicians to "put aside normal party political differences" and back the amendment to the Criminal Justice Bill.
Mr Harte, a role model to many youngsters thanks to his successful sporting career, said only the NHS could be trusted to act "in the best interests of both mother and child" in abortion cases.
"I would urge every Assembly member to put aside normal party political differences and join as one on this issue that unites all of our people," Mr Harte, a devout Catholic, said in a statement.
"Every abortion that takes place is tragic for both mother and child which requires the highest level of care from our medical profession.
"This care is best found in the NHS that can be trusted, with no financial gain, to act in the best interests of both mother and child within the law that gives protection to the unborn child," he added.
Mr Harte did not respond to the Belfast Telegraph's requests for an interview yesterday.
But South Belfast MLA Anna Lo issued a message urging Mr Harte to stick to the day job.
"He has expertise in GAA and I have a lot of respect for him. But really I think he should keep to his own field," she said.
"He should stick to GAA."
Sinn Fein has also shown no sign of backing down.
Caitriona Ruane, who has openly voiced her opposition to the forthcoming amendment, added: "Mickey Harte is entitled to express his opinion, as is everyone else.
"Hearing what public opinion is on the subject is why it would be better for this legislation to go out to public consultation rather than being tagged on the end of the Justice Bill as advocated by the DUP and SDLP."
It is not the first time Mr Harte has been criticised for taking a public stance on issues outside of the GAA.
There was a backlash after Mr Harte and other well-known GAA figures attended a rally in support of bankrupt tycoon Sean Quinn last August.
And last month, Eileen Calder from Belfast's Rape Crisis Centre said it was "awful" that Mr Harte had provided a character reference for a man who admitted sexually assaulting a woman.
Abortion is currently illegal in Northern Ireland – unless a woman's life is at risk or there is a risk of permanent and serious damage to her mental or physical health. But medical abortions up to nine weeks are available at the Marie Stopes family planning clinic (above) in Belfast, which opened in October amid massive controversy. It is Northern Ireland's only private clinic to offer abortion