Belfast Telegraph

Maginnis's outrage after name wrongly added to letter calling for reform of Northern Ireland abortion law

By Victoria Leonard

A Northern Ireland peer has hit out after his name was wrongly included in an open letter calling for outside political intervention on abortion law here.

Lord Maginnis was listed as one of 170-plus politicians calling for urgent action to protect the "human rights of women" in a letter published in the Sunday Times at the weekend.

The letter urged the British and Irish governments and the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference (BIIGC) to step in on the matter.

While Lord Maginnis's name was not included in the abbreviated printed version of the letter, it was listed online alongside the full letter in the list of signatories.

The online letter, organised by Labour MP Stella Creasy, called for the BIIGC, which meets in London today, to "urgently agree a pathway forward to adequately provide for human rights - including compliant healthcare access for women and girls living in Northern Ireland".

It also asked that the Government intervene to decriminalise abortion and repeal sections 58 and 59 of Offences Against the Person Act - which make abortion a criminal offence - and urged it to "set out an explicit legislative timetable as to when it will do so".

It added that such action would stop women here from being treated as "second class citizens" and "ensure that the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement is upheld and the human rights of the women living in Northern Ireland are respected".

Lord Maginnis, a former Fermanagh and South Tyrone MP and now an independent unionist peer, describes himself as a "committed Christian" and said he was "horrified" that his name had wrongly been included. He said he had "made it very, very clear" to Ms Creasy that he did not wish to appear as a signatory.

He also slammed the letter as "displaying an ignorance of the nature of the Good Friday Agreement" and said that the call for the two governments and the BIIGC to intervene was "misdirected" as they had "no authority to intervene on devolved Northern Ireland affairs".

"I received an email from Ms Creasy last week asking if my name could be put on the letter, but I made it very, very clear to her there was no doubt, that I didn't want my name on the letter," he said.

"I also asked her to remove my name from her mailing list.

"Then a colleague rang me on Sunday asking if I had seen the Sunday Times, as he knew I wouldn't stand in favour of the letter. I was spitting nails, I was outraged.

"I know there are medical reasons on occasions when a foetus has to be sacrificed, but the last thing I want is wholesale 'convenience' or 'social' abortion, which I felt this letter was calling for."

The letter states that the Good Friday Agreement places responsibility "on both governments as the co-guarantors of the agreement to uphold and protect the human rights of all the residents of Northern Ireland".

It adds that "one of the foundation stones of the new political dispensation in Northern Ireland was that laws would be compliant with the European Convention on Human Rights" but "this commitment is being tested".

Referring to last month's Supreme Court assessment that abortion law here needs "radical reconsideration", and the view of the United Nations' Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women that it "amounts to discrimination against women", the letter calls for the Government to intervene in the absence of an Assembly.

Lord Maginnis said he was "particularly perturbed" by the letter's call for the British and Irish Governments to act to "ensure that the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement is upheld and the human rights of the women living in Northern Ireland are respected".

"This is actively contrary to the Good Friday Agreement," he insisted.

When asked if he had contacted Ms Creasy or been contacted by her following the letter's publication, he said he "neither wants to see or speak to Miss Creasy" as he is "very angry".

Lord Maginnis said he had contacted The Sunday Times, and wanted a letter published outlining his position.

His name had been removed from the online letter yesterday evening. A source at the Sunday Times said the letter and the signatories was sent to it from an MP in good faith, and the mistake was made before it received the letter.

Ms Creasy did not respond to requests for comment.

Belfast Telegraph

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