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Arlene Foster says Stormont Assembly's voice on abortion and same-sex marriage must be heard

Arlene Foster

The Northern Ireland Assembly must have its voice heard on abortion and measures must be brought in to protect churches from involvement in same-sex marriages, DUP leader Arlene Foster has said.

The first minister, speaking on Peston on ITV, said that the decriminalisation of abortion and the introduction of same-sex marriage was “imposed on Northern Ireland” from Westminster which went against the devolution settlement.

She also said the difference between Boris Johnson's Brexit deal and the one negotiated by Theresa May was like choosing between a broken leg or broken arm.

The law on abortion in Northern Ireland changed on October 21 2019 to allow abortion after legislation was tabled in Westminster.

Mrs Foster said: "It should have very much been left to the Northern Ireland Assembly to deal with these issues. It was imposed upon us.

"Now what we need to do is - the Assembly is back and running - therefore we need to have our voice heard in relation to all of these issues because it will be a very different voice to what has been imposed on us from Westminster.

"There is unanimity across the chamber in regard to the fact that currently we have a position were abortions are available up to 27 weeks, which is totally unacceptable.

"There will be some argument about where that should come back to. I think everybody in Northern Ireland recognises that that is not a sustainable position."

Same-sex marriage has been legal in Northern Ireland since January 12 2020, following legislation brought forward in Westminster. The first marriage ceremonies are due to take place on February 10.

Mrs Foster said that too was “imposed” on the people of Northern Ireland.

"What we need to ensure now is the same safeguards for those people who don't want to engage in those issues - from a church point of view [protections] are given to Northern Ireland as have been given to the rest of the UK.

"The Secretary of State says that is the case and we very much hope that is the case."

Asked whether she regrets not doing a deal with former prime minister Theresa May on Brexit, the DUP MLA said: "That is really akin to saying 'would you like a broken arm, or a broken leg', because of course both deals were bad for Northern Ireland.

"We are now having to deal with the issues around Boris's deal, Boris's withdrawal agreement. Of course, those are very clear issues and the Northern Ireland Assembly sent a very clear message around that earlier this week."

Mrs Foster said that May's deal would have left Northern Ireland in the EU customs union "in perpetuity" but that Johnson's deal means that the region remains in the UK customs union.

Mrs Foster also welcomed recent assurances from the prime minister that there will be no checks on goods coming from Great Britain into Northern Ireland.

"I listened very careful to what the PM had to say in the House of Commons in response to one of my colleagues, where he said emphatically that there would not be any checks," she said.

"We look forward to hearing from him and how he is going to deal with that in the coming days."

Mrs Foster said that the recent loss of two DUP MPs in the general election - Emma Little-Pengelly in South Belfast and Nigel Dodds in North Belfast - was not a “disaster” for her party.

“If you look at the share of the vote, it was our second best result in the history of the DUP in relation to the number of votes received,” she said.

“We lost two very critical MPs and we are very sorry that that has happened but democracy is there, we have to respect democracy and we have to get on it.

“We have as much influence now as we did before the confidence and supply agreement.”

Belfast Telegraph