Belfast Telegraph

No deal to revive Stormont without equal marriage, O’Neill tells Pride event

Same-sex marriage is among the issues over which Sinn Fein and the DUP have failed to reach agreement.

All of Northern Ireland’s parties with the exception of the DUP took part in the Pride Talks Back debate at the MAC in Belfast (Rebecca Black/PA)
All of Northern Ireland’s parties with the exception of the DUP took part in the Pride Talks Back debate at the MAC in Belfast (Rebecca Black/PA)

Sinn Fein’s vice president said her party won’t agree to a deal to restore the powersharing government unless it includes the extension of same-sex marriage to Northern Ireland.

Michelle O’Neill told a political debate as part of the Belfast Pride Festival she believed the Stormont Assembly had failed the people by not passing same-sex marriage into law, and she blamed the DUP.

The DUP did not send a representative to attend the Pride Talks Back event, which included speakers from the UUP, SDLP, Alliance, Green Party, PUP and People Before Profit.

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Sinn Fein vice president Michelle O’Neill (right) tells Belfast Pride Talks Back that her party won’t agree the return of Stormont without marriage equality. (Rebecca Black/PA)

Hours after meeting new Northern Ireland Secretary of State Julian Smith about continuing talks over the return of powersharing, Ms O’Neill said marriage equality must be delivered.

“It’s our determination to deliver marriage equality, we must deliver marriage equality. In 2019, for anybody to seriously say any legislator can sit and actively deny or discriminate against one section of society is just not acceptable,” she said.

Earlier this month, the Westminster Government voted to both liberalise access to abortion and allow same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland if devolution is not restored.

Ms O’Neill said it was still her favoured position to have marriage equality voted on locally by locally elected politicians.

“It doesn’t sit comfortably with me as an Irish republican to ask the British Government to legislate but if rights are going to continually be denied and the Assembly can’t deliver, then that is the context in which Westminster can deliver the legislation,” she said.

Ms O’Neill added: “Any deal that’s reached in terms of the restoration of the Assembly will have to include marriage equality, that’s the bottom line.”

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(l-r) Seamas de Faoite (SDLP), William Ennis (PUP, Fiona Ferguson (People Before Profit) and Mal O’Hara (Green Party) take part in the Pride Talks Back event as part of the Belfast Pride Festival. (Rebecca Black/PA)

Ulster Unionist MLA Doug Beattie said: “Russian roulette cannot be played with equal marriage”.

He said his party wanted to see the petition of concern – a form of veto within the Northern Ireland Assembly – “put out of reach” of any one political party.

“If we go back into an Executive again and the petition of concern still sits at 30, then it’s giving the DUP the ammunition,” he said.

Alliance leader Naomi Long responded saying she wants to see same-sex marriage delivered by the Stormont Assembly, but not as part of a powersharing deal.

“I don’t believe that’s enough because it might be equal marriage today but there will be other LGBT issues tomorrow that will need to be addressed,” she said.

“I want an Assembly that’s structures are sound and capable of dealing with progressive rights legislation day in and day out, not just a special deal on one issue. Not just to sit on your hands and don’t use the petition of concern this time around.

“I want reform so that we can’t use the petition of concern to block enabling people’s rights.

“I want it done on that basis, not on the basis of just raising the numbers because all that means is you have a higher target to hit in order to be able to block things that people don’t want.”

Mr Beattie also referenced former UUP leader and ex-first minister Lord Trimble who recently admitted that he struggled when his daughter came out as gay, but that ultimately the experience led him to backing same-sex marriage.

“I challenged David Trimble at the time, I said ‘look if you can accept that for your daughter, why could you have never accepted that for someone else’s daughter?’,” he said.

“There are people in my party, people in my wider extended family, in the community that I live in, that all have different views, but some of them are moving, are changing and that’s a positive thing to see.”

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