Belfast Telegraph

DUP backs O'Loan call to restore the Assembly and give local parties say on abortion

Baroness O’Loan has written a letter to the Secretary of State urging the recall of Stormont
Baroness O’Loan has written a letter to the Secretary of State urging the recall of Stormont
Ralph Hewitt

By Ralph Hewitt

DUP leader Arlene Foster has backed Baroness Nuala O'Loan's suggestion that the Stormont Assembly be recalled before Monday's change to abortion laws.

Former Police Ombudsman Baroness O'Loan has written to the Secretary of State Julian urging him to recall the Assembly - something he does not have the power to do.

Should there be no restoration of the power-sharing government before Monday, abortion will be decriminalised and Westminster will legislate for same-sex marriage here.

Mrs Foster said: "We would support this call (by Baroness O'Loan). Our Assembly team met on Monday and agreed to seek a recall of the Assembly.

"Our MLAs will return to the chamber without pre-condition. There are serious matters emanating from the NI (Executive Formation etc) Act 2019. These should be decisions made in Stormont.

"We urge other MLAs who oppose the extreme liberalisation of our abortion law to step outside any party shackles and join us in recalling the Assembly.

"It's time to get Northern Ireland moving again."

The DUP's Sammy Wilson tweeted that "just three signatures" were required to take advantage of a section of the Northern Ireland Act which states that if at least 30 MLAs ask the Speaker to recall the Assembly, he will summon members.

However, Mr Wilson did not set out how a new Executive could be formed ahead of any meeting of the Assembly.

Secretary of State Mr Smith told MLAs on Monday that the Executive must return by Monday if they want to influence the incoming abortion law.

Baroness O'Loan described the situation as urgent.

An intensive phase of talks aiming to restore power-sharing will take place later this week and will be the last opportunity for parties to reach an agreement.

In her letter to Mr Smith, Baroness O'Loan also outlined the need for Northern Ireland to have its own legislature to deal with Brexit, as well as "the numerous and urgent problems which exist" here.

"The situation with regard to the Assembly in Northern Ireland is, as you know, most unsatisfactory," she wrote.

"There have been many calls from all quarters to our MLAs to go back to the Assembly."

Baroness O'Loan referenced an online petition calling on MLAs to get back to work which has been signed by more than 23,000 people.

"This situation is unprecedented," she continued.

"Despite the recent publication of guidelines, there is an enormous lack of clarity about the situation which will prevail between 22 October and the introduction of new regulations.

"There are significant legal uncertainties pursuant to the publication of those guidelines and, in the absence of any legal certainty which might derive from properly articulated legislation, they give rise to great concern for the safety of mothers and their unborn babies, and about the absence of any clear statement of the legal rights and obligations of those who might be affected by the guidelines."

Baroness O'Loan also said that once the new abortion laws were introduced, Northern Ireland would be back in a situation which prevailed before 1803.

In response to Baroness O'Loan's letter, a government spokesman stated that the Secretary of State has no power to recall the Assembly because that function can only be carried out by the Speaker of the Assembly, East Belfast DUP MLA Robin Newton.

"The Secretary of State is doing everything he can to get Stormont back up and running and is holding intensive talks with the parties this week," said the spokesman.

"The Assembly can only be recalled by the Speaker, by agreement of the parties."

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