O'Loan calls on Smith to recall Northern Ireland Assembly ahead of abortion law change
Baroness Nuala O'Loan has written to the Secretary of State urging him to recall the Assembly before Monday's change to abortion laws in Northern Ireland.
The former Police Ombudsman described the situation as urgent as she believes Stormont should be reconvened to deal with the “difficulty of the situation” with regard to abortion.
Secretary of State Julian Smith told MLAs on Monday that the Stormont Executive must return by October 21 if the parties want to influence the incoming reform of abortion law.
An intensive phase of talks aimed at restoring power sharing will take place later this week and will be the last opportunity for local parties to reach an agreement before Monday.
Should there be no return of local government before that abortion will be decriminalised and same-sex marriages allowed under the law.
In her letter to Mr Smith, Baroness O'Loan also outlined the need for Northern Ireland to have its own legislature to deal with Brexit, as well as “the numerous and urgent problems which exist” in the country.
She said the ongoing political impasse which has seen Northern Ireland go without a devolved government for over 1,000 days as "most unsatisfactory".
“I have seen your most recent call to the political parties in Northern Ireland,” she wrote. “Now I am writing formally to ask you to go one step further and to recall the Assembly before 21 October.
Baroness O'Loan has previously spoken against the change in the law in the Lords. In her letter to Mr Smith she referenced an online petition calling on MLAs to get back to work, which has been signed by more than 23,000 people.
She continued: “This situation is unprecedented. Despite the recent publication of guidelines there is an enormous lack of clarity about the situation which will prevail between October 22 and the introduction of new regulations.
“There are significant legal uncertainties pursuant to the publication of those guidelines, and in the absence of any legal certainty which might derive from properly articulated legislation, they give rise to great concern for the safety of mothers and their unborn babies, and about the absence of any clear statement of the legal rights and obligations of those who might be affected by the guidelines.”
Baroness O'Loan also stated that once the new abortion laws are introduced, Northern Ireland will be back in a situation which prevailed before 1803.
“The legislative and administrative lacuna which will occur on Tuesday next will mean that there will then be no specific laws regulating the conduct of individuals who, or institutions which provide abortion services in Northern Ireland between 22 October and the passing of further new law,” she said.
A UK Government spokesman said the Secretary of State was "doing everything he can to get Stormont back up and running" and was holding "intensive" talks with the parties this week.
"He has no power or role to recall the Assembly, as that function is conferred on the Speaker for the Assembly. The Assembly can only be recalled by the Speaker, by agreement of the parties," he said.
Belfast Telegraph Digital