Labour's Harman rails at male-dominated Northern Ireland politics
Women in Westminster are no longer prepared to turn a blind eye to Northern Ireland's problems due to fears over disturbing the peace in the province's male-dominated political system, former Labour deputy leader Harriet Harman has said.
The 67-year-old Camberwell and Peckham MP was the keynote speaker at the launch of the annual statement by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission which took place in Stormont yesterday.
"Relations between the Government in Westminster and decision-making in Northern Ireland was and remains extraordinarily sensitive and complex, deeply entangled with the peace process," she said. "And we always wanted to see the peace process succeed.
"Often when women in Northern Ireland reached out to us for support we were warned: 'That's got to be decided in Northern Ireland - if you interfere in that you'll jeopardise the peace settlement'.
"Of course we want to support devolution and decision-making by Northern Ireland's own representatives.
"But there's a new dimension to the sense of solidarity between women in Westminster with our sisters in Northern Ireland.
"The preparedness of Parliament to engage in the issue of abortion for Northern Irish women is testament to that.
"In a Parliamentary Labour Party which is now 43% women and where there are young women on all sides of the House who are what I describe as daughters of the women's movement, there is a reluctance to accept being told to stay out of it, just accept what male-dominated Northern Irish politics dictates and don't intrude."
Meanwhile, NI Human Rights Commissioner Les Allamby said it had been difficult to write anything positive about progress on human rights here throughout 2017.
"Strategies to promote gender equality, improve the circumstances of people with disabilities, and to enhance the lives of LGBTI individuals, as well as to tackle poverty based on need, all remain on the drawing board," he said.
Mr Allamby highlighted the number of children going missing from care in Northern Ireland as a matter of particular concern in the yearly report.
"This is an extremely concerning issue, as is the high levels of children who are at risk from sexual exploitation. Immediate and joined up action by all agencies with responsibility for the protection of our most vulnerable children is needed," he said.
The report also highlighted that there was a "significant degree of inequality in the gender composition at executive level of the NI public sector: males and females holding 70.8 and 29.2% of all executive positions respectively."