Belfast Telegraph

Foster says DUP in talks with NI’s attorney general on abortion legal challenge

Their bid to fast-track a private members’ bill to halt abortion reform failed after outgoing speaker Robin Newton prevented it from being considered.

A half empty debating chamber at Stormont after it was recalled by MLAs wishing to protest against changes to Northern Ireland’s abortion laws (NI Assembly TV)
A half empty debating chamber at Stormont after it was recalled by MLAs wishing to protest against changes to Northern Ireland’s abortion laws (NI Assembly TV)

By David Young, PA

The DUP is consulting with Northern Ireland’s attorney general on a potential legal challenge against the decriminalisation of abortion, Arlene Foster has said.

The party initially sought advice from John Larkin ahead of tabling a last-minute legislative bid at Stormont ahead of the law change at midnight on Monday.

The party’s attempt to fast-track a private members’ bill through in a single day to halt the abortion reform failed after outgoing speaker Robin Newton prevented the matter being considered.

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Northern Ireland’s Attorney General John Larkin (Paul Faith/PA)

Afterwards Mrs Foster made clear her party would consider “every possible legal option”.

On Friday, she said the party had again approached Mr Larkin for advice.

“We have gone back to the attorney general,” she said.

“Paul Givan (DUP MLA) who was bringing forward the Defence of the Unborn legislation has written to the attorney general about our options.

“So that’s an ongoing discussion with him.”

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DUP leader Arlene Foster (Brian Lawless/PA)

Abortion was decriminalised as a consequence of legislation passed at Westminster.

Unionists recalled the Assembly on Monday for a special sitting in a bid to thwart the law change, despite the ongoing absence of a powersharing executive.

But the DUP bid fell at the first hurdle when Mr Newton insisted a new speaker would need to be in place before the Assembly could turn to such a legislative bid.

The election of a speaker requires cross-community in the chamber – such support was not forthcoming as nationalist members indicated they would not back any appointment in the absence of a powersharing executive.

The UK Government has now assumed responsibility for introducing abortion services in Northern Ireland by the end of March 2019.

Mrs Foster was asked whether the party would contemplate giving ground on Sinn Fein demands for an Irish Language Act in order to get powersharing restored ahead of March so she and colleagues could have a role in shaping new abortion regulations.

It's never been a case of language or life Arlene Foster

“It’s not that straightforward,” she said.

“We’ve been engaging with a lot of Christians across Northern Ireland around these issues.

“It’s never been a case of language or life.

“I said in August 2017 that I would legislate to facilitate Irish language speakers to take away barriers and to allow that to happen. So this has never been about a choice between language and life.

“It’s barriers that have been put up by Sinn Fein. And I know that they’re having internal difficulties at the moment. And they’re looking at their leadership questions that are coming up and having thoughts about what way to move forward. But meanwhile, the people of Northern Ireland are left without a government and that is not right.

“They should be in government, if there are issues to be dealt with we can deal with those issues in a separate process. But for goodness sake, let’s get the Assembly back up and running.”

Reflecting on Monday’s events, which saw the sitting end in acrimony after less than an hour, Mrs Foster said: “I mean the thing that disappointed me I suppose most about Monday was the cat calling and the abuse and the negativity about what we were trying to do.

“We were trying to bring about a piece of legislation through the Assembly, and the Assembly has the power to do that.

“If we had have appointed an Assembly speaker on Monday, then it would have become a legislative assembly again, yes, we wouldn’t have had an executive. And that’s not right. We should have an executive, but it’s wrong to say that we couldn’t have had an Assembly we could have had an Assembly on Monday.

“And, unfortunately, other parties wouldn’t come forward and agree with us in relation to that.

“So there has to be a pathway found, and we need to find that pathway.”

PA

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