Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland is becoming a backwater, says O'Neill in wake of abortion vote

Sinn Fein's Michelle O'Neill has said Northern Ireland is becoming a backwater in the absence of an Executive to legislate on language rights, abortion and same-sex marriage.

Speaking on ITV's Peston on Sunday programme, the party's leader in Northern Ireland was reflecting on the situation in the province in the wake of the Republic's vote to repeal the Eighth Amendment.

With the result announced on Saturday, voters in the Republic chose to back a change to the Irish Constitution by a margin of around two to one, paving the way for the introduction of legislation for abortion in Ireland.

Mrs O'Neill said it was a "good thing" there was an awareness in England the law in Northern Ireland needed to change, but "ultimately would want to be a legislator that takes the decision".

"In the absence of having institutions we have to find a way to deliver rights," she said.

"Because the north is becoming a backwater. The north is becoming a society where if you want language rights, if you want same-sex marriage, if you want women’s health being dealt with, we are being denied that because of political unionism’s position on a rights’ based society."

Northern Ireland has been without an Executive since January 2017, with numerous rounds of negotiations between the DUP and Sinn Fein failing to restore Stormont.

In the absence of an Executive, key decisions on the governing of Northern Ireland have been taken by the Government, with legislation being introduced on Northern Ireland's budget, regional rates, and the pay of suspended assembly members.

Mrs O'Neill also said she did not believe it would make a "button of difference" if Sinn Fein took its seats in Westminster, and the party made its influence felt in Europe and in the Republic.

"But I believe my mandate is to protect Ireland, my mandate is to protect the wishes of the people in the north of Ireland. I think in terms of the conversation at home now I think it is about the unity referendum," she said.

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