Belfast Telegraph

'Blockade on equality' for gay community must end says O'Neill as DUP no-show event

Sinn Fein’s Michelle O’Neill
Sinn Fein’s Michelle O’Neill

A "blockade on equality" for the gay community in Northern Ireland is not sustainable, the Sinn Fein vice president has told an event.

Michelle O'Neill made the comment while addressing the second annual PinkNews summer reception at Stormont.

Leaders of four of the five major political parties in Northern Ireland addressed the event at the Great Hall on Thursday evening.

DUP leader Arlene Foster was present at the reception last year, but the party did not send a speaker this year.

A DUP spokesman said it coincided with the party's AGM, and it had not been not possible to send a representative.

Same-sex marriage is one of the issues in contention between the DUP and Sinn Fein as they attempt to restore powersharing during ongoing political talks.

During a vote in November 2015, Northern Ireland's Stormont Assembly members supported same-sex marriage by a majority of 53 votes to 52.

The motion was blocked by the DUP using a veto measure known as a petition of concern.

Earlier this week it emerged that YouGov polling for PinkNews found that 70% of people in the UK agreed that same-sex marriage should be allowed in Northern Ireland, up from 65% last year.

John O'Doherty from the Rainbow Project described it as unacceptable that Northern Ireland remains the only part of the UK or Ireland that does not recognise same-sex marriage.

Rainbow Project director John O'Doherty
Rainbow Project director John O'Doherty

"The UK Government remains unwilling to legislate leaving same-sex couples, trans and non-binary people in Northern Ireland facing routine discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender," he said.

"Justice delayed is justice denied, it is unacceptable and unsustainable to have a patchwork of marriage policy across these islands.

"The ongoing denial of marriage equality in Northern Ireland is an embarrassing stain on the UK LGBT rights record and cannot be allowed to continue.

"We are seeking the support of parliamentarians and people across these islands to compel the British Government to implement marriage equality across the whole of the UK without delay."

He urged the Westminster Government to introduce same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland.

Ms O'Neill told the event: "The denial of marriage equality and rights for the LGBT community in the north by a minority of political parties is unsustainable.

"There will be no second-class citizenship any longer, for anyone no matter who you are, where you come from or who you love.

"Talks between the political parties and the two governments are ongoing to restore the Executive and Assembly on a credible and sustainable basis.

"As legislators we must put citizens' rights before our personal beliefs in order to fulfil our public duty, and to protect everyone equally before the law."

Ulster Unionist Party leader Robin Swann expressed his disappointment that the Assembly had not met since the previous event last year.

"If and when we restore devolution, Stormont must offer a platform, representation and legislation for our LGBT community," he said.

"Fifty years on from Stonewall, people should not have to take to the streets or go to the courts to secure their basic rights.

"You must feel represented by democratic institutions that can and will deliver for you."

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood and Alliance MLA John Blair also addressed the event.

The event was sponsored by Alliance MLA Paula Bradshaw

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