Belfast Telegraph

DUP under pressure over watershed abortion and same-sex marriage vote by MPs

A woman passes a mural in support of same-sex marriage
A woman passes a mural in support of same-sex marriage
John O’Doherty of the Rainbow Project
Nigel Dodds
Rev Trevor Gribben of the Presbyterian Church

By Staff Reporters

The DUP has been challenged to force the Government to "retreat" on same-sex marriage and abortion as the price of a deal to keep the Conservatives in power.

In a landmark House of Commons vote last night, MPs approved an amendment requiring Westminster to legalise same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland if a new Stormont Executive is not formed by October 21.

DUP Westminster leader Nigel Dodds said the vote drove a "coach and horses through the principle of devolution".

MPs also backed an amendment to extend access to abortion in Northern Ireland.

DUP MP Ian Paisley claimed it would lead to an increase in "unregulated abortions" and said the "right to life" needs to be upheld.

Mr Paisley said: "There is no right under the international treaties to terminate an unborn life, that is the fact of the matter, and we have got to make sure that that right, the right to life, is upheld."

TUV leader Jim Allister said the votes were "a calculated attempt to bring coercion to bear on the Stormont talks - once more in aid of the Sinn Fein agenda and as a means of pressurising the DUP".

"The challenge to the DUP is obvious. Will they roll over on Sinn Fein Irish Language Act demands to regain what passes for power at Stormont, or will they give legs to the principles they espouse on same-sex marriage and abortion, by making retreat by HMG on these issues the price of their 'confidence and supply'?

"Make no mistake, the DUP has the means to thwart this meddling by making the status quo of devolved control of these issues the cost of the new confidence and supply arrangements which require to be negotiated with the new Prime Minister."

Speaking after the vote, Rainbow Project director John O'Doherty said "people across Northern Ireland will wake up tomorrow feeling more hopeful for the future we all want to see".

"Parliament has always had the power to legislate for marriage equality in Northern Ireland and we are glad the House of Commons has seen sense and voted to give people in Northern Ireland the same freedoms enjoyed by everyone else in these islands," he said.

The Presbyterian Church said it was disappointed that the amendments had been voted through while the Stormont impasse continues.

General Secretary Rev Trevor Gribben said: "While our Church's position is that the laws on these sensitive issues should not be changed, we have said many times in recent years that decisions on abortion and same-sex marriage should remain the responsibility of our locally elected MLAs."

He added: "Political cherry-picking of issues by MPs, when talks to restore devolution to Northern Ireland are ongoing and should be encouraged, is both regrettable and unhelpful, running contrary to the spirit of devolution."

Peter Lynas, director of Evangelical Alliance NI, said MPs had voted to "fundamentally undermine devolution".

"We understand that some will see this as a victory for equality and choice. But equality must treat both mother and child fairly and choice must recognise both lives in a pregnancy," he said.

He said many will see MPs' backing for same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland "as a victory for equality". "However, confusing equality with the redefinition of marriage is a mistake. It is sad that MPs with no mandate have chosen to ignore devolution and change the law in Northern Ireland," he said.

Methodist Church President Rev Sam McGuffin and the chair of the Church's Council on Social Responsibility, Rev Dr David Clements, said it will be "disappointing if these things are legislated for 'over the heads' of people in Northern Ireland".

They said: "We understand how some could see these as issues that may pressurise local parties to come to agreement sooner rather than later. We also want to give every encouragement to our local politicians to make progress, but we are deeply concerned if these very sensitive issues are used as ammunition in that cause."

Carryduff Free Presbyterian minister David McLaughlin described the votes as an "affront to democracy".

"The Free Presbyterian Church is totally opposed to abortion on demand and totally opposed to the introduction of same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland," said Rev McLaughlin.

"We personally believe that legal definition of marriage is between man and one woman. So we would be totally opposed to it, and not only that, but I think for the Westminster Parliament to make a decision to impose this on Northern Ireland turns democracy on the head."

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood MLA it had been "a good day for Northern Ireland and for our LGBT+ community".

"It is a matter of profound regret for me as an MLA and as a party leader that we haven't yet been able to deliver marriage equality in an inclusive, power-sharing Executive. I am delighted, however, that we now have an equality backstop that will ensure the rights of LGBT+ people are delivered either here or at Westminster," he said.

Alliance leader Naomi Long MEP said yesterday had been "a historic day". She said that "our society has taken its next step towards being dragged into the 21st century".

Franki Appleton of Marie Stopes UK, which provides abortion services, also said it had been "a historic day for women's rights". But Nola Leach, chief executive of CARE (Christian Action Research and Education) said: "This is a tragic outcome and one we believe will have devastating consequences for women and babies across Northern Ireland. Westminster MPs who do not represent NI constituencies have shamelessly forced abortion law change on the people of NI."

Welcoming the result of the vote on abortion, Karen Murray, the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) director for Northern Ireland, said it was "a significant step forward in the fight for abortion rights for women in Northern Ireland".

"The lack of access to abortion for women in Northern Ireland has already been declared a breach of human rights by the Supreme Court and the passing of this amendment today means the Government will now have to decriminalise abortion in Northern Ireland by the end of October this year," she said.

Sinn Fein MP Elisha McCallion said the issues ought to have been dealt with at Stormont.

Ulster Unionist Party leader Robin Swann said that the absence of a functioning Executive and Assembly can no longer hold back decision making.

"Westminster has now shown that it can and will legislate for Northern Ireland, so the Secretary of State should begin taking the urgent decisions needed on behalf of Northern Ireland," he said.

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