Belfast Telegraph

Moves to change Northern Ireland same-sex marriage and abortion laws 'unconstitutional'

Lord Morrow
Lord Morrow
Suzanne Breen

By Suzanne Breen

DUP peers have spoken out strongly against proposals to legalise same-sex marriage and liberalise Northern Ireland's abortion law if devolution isn't restored by October 21.

They slammed the amendments to the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill as unrepresentative of majority opinion here.

However, peers from a range of parties challenged that view and said they could no longer sit back while people were denied rights enjoyed by citizens in the rest of the UK.

The exchanges occurred during a lengthy debate last night as the legislation goes through the House of Lords.

The main purpose of the bill had been to keep public services running and delay another Assembly election. But successful amendments last week from Labour MPs Stella Creasy and Conor McGinn have placed control of the two contentious issues in Westminster's hands.

Lord Morrow said they were devolved matters and "100%" of the 11 Northern Ireland MPs present in the Commons had opposed the move last week.

The bill had been "distorted beyond all recognition" and "constitutional due process" overturned. "As a matter of procedural fair play, it is hard to find a better expression of being treated beneath contempt," he said. "No matter how passionately you believe in them, your aims are always sullied if they are secured by means that are not constitutional."

Lord McCrea said a recent opinion poll showed that 64% of people - including 66% of women - were against Westminster acting on the abortion issue.

The DUP peer said he wanted to speak for the "100,000 children" in Northern Ireland who wouldn't have been born without existing anti-abortion laws. He said he was speaking as a father of five and grandfather of 10.

Independent peer Baroness Tonge said that, as a mother of three and grandmother of seven, she was "well aware of the value of human life".

She said that she had seen the "despair, misery and fear" of women who were pregnant against their will.

"It is a human right for a woman to have control over her own body," she said.

"If the people of Northern Ireland want to still belong to the UK, then they have to accept there are some things that the UK is committed to and this is one of them."

Tory peer Lord Hayward said same-sex marriage for Northern Ireland wasn't something Westminster had brought up out of the blue. The Stormont Assembly had debated the issue over seven years. The number against it had lessened until there was a majority in favour in 2015, he added.

Cross-bench peer Lord Carlile said that Northern Ireland politicians had chosen not to form a government and politics couldn't "come to a standstill" because of their decision.

It was now "the duty of this Parliament in which we sit" to determine the social issues raised, he stated.

Liberal Democrat peer Baroness Barker said Parliament must not kick the abortion issue "down the road again" and fail Northern Ireland women. Westminster must finally say "the time has come", she added.

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