Belfast Telegraph

Leaked papers stating no plans to amend abortion laws in Northern Irelanbd branded 'shameful'

By Suzanne Breen

Amnesty International has claimed Karen Bradley's leaked briefing notes show the Government's "total disregard" for women in Northern Ireland.

The document which was mistakenly sent to the Press in an embarrassing blunder by the Northern Ireland Office says the Government believes abortion is a matter for local politicians and it has no plans to amend abortion law here.

It refers to action which has "already been taken in this area" making free NHS abortions available in England for Northern Ireland women.

The document also states that despite the Government having no plans to legislate, this "doesn't prevent others from introducing such legislation if they so wish", and clarifies that "Government's policy is to allow a free vote".

Grainne Teggart of Amnesty International said: "It's deeply concerning and, frankly, unacceptable that the UK Government continues to abdicate its responsibility to women here.

"It's clear that some in government are happy for women to continue to fight through the courts or leave it to other MPs to drive through much needed change. This is shameful."

However, Goretti Horgan of Alliance For Choice said she read the document positively as the Government was saying that while it wouldn't liberalise the law, it wouldn't prevent others from doing so in the House of Commons.

Mark Baillie of the group Care said: "It is apparent from these briefing notes that the Westminster Government have no plans to impose abortion laws on Northern Ireland and this is hugely welcome. This has consistently been our position - that abortion is a clearly devolved issue and one on which the Northern Ireland Assembly voted on only two years ago.

"Our abortion laws provide protection both for the unborn baby and for the mother and we think both matter in this debate."

The briefing notes for the Secretary of State accidentally sent to the media outlined the Government's position on a range of matters. They included legacy, cutting MLAs' pay, a border poll, Brexit, the provision of cannabis oil for epileptic Co Tyrone schoolboy Billy Caldwell, and the DUP's system for fining its own politicians.

Although their accidental leaking caused red faces in Stormont, the notes were mainly innocuous and contained no great surprises.

However, some apparent contradictions were exposed.

Sinn Fein pointed to previous claims by Prime Minister Theresa May about the unfairness of legacy investigations.

MLA Linda Dillon said: "Now her Government's own confidential briefing reveal that they know her claims as false.

"They state clearly that a number of non-state investigations are already under way and that the Historical Investigations Unit will examine more deaths of state forces than those caused by them.

"This directly contradicts what Theresa May told the House of Commons, yet she has still failed to withdraw remarks which caused great hurt to many victims' families."

Billy Caldwell's mother Charlotte claimed the document showed she had been misled.

"It is apparent that I have been misled from the moment my Billy's anti-epileptic medication was confiscated at Heathrow Airport a week ago," she said.

"Those notes revealed that the responsibility for the decision on the import of unlicensed meds is the responsibility of the Home Office.

"Two hours after those drugs were confiscated I was invited to meet with Home Office Minister Nick Hurd and five of his officials.

"They first suggested that this was a matter for the devolved assembly in Northern Ireland, then they advised me to make a formal application for a licence for Billy's meds.

"I asked how long it would take, how much would it cost, and whether anybody else had been successful in making an application.

"They did not know the answers to any of those questions."

On the issue of moving tenants from the Russell Court building in Belfast due to concerns over fire safety, the document says: "The safety of residents is absolutely paramount but this will undoubtedly cause huge disruption and concern for residents in Russell Court."

Belfast Telegraph

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