Belfast Telegraph

Pro-choice and anti-abortion supporters unite in opposition to Northern Ireland TV and film industry boycott

Sophie Turner who starred in Game Of Thrones
Sophie Turner who starred in Game Of Thrones
Lisa McGee
Game Of Thrones which draws tourists here

By David Young

Politicians and media industry leaders have hit out at calls for Hollywood entertainment giants to boycott Northern Ireland over its strict abortion laws.

It's the latest twist in a storm over access to abortion that has now crossed the Atlantic from the US.

Netflix and Disney had joined a number of Hollywood actors - including Game Of Thrones star Sophie Turner - threatening to withdraw from the US state of Georgia over its proposed abortion ban.

In a recent Sky News interview Turner said she had signed a letter saying she wouldn't work in states with strict abortion laws.

It was put to Turner that Game Of Thrones was made in Northern Ireland, where women can face a maximum sentence of life in jail for terminating a pregnancy.

She replied: "There was a lot of work on Game Of Thrones there, so luckily we're moving on."

That sparked pressure from pro-choice campaigners for media companies to stop filming here.

However, NI Screen chief executive Richard Williams said a boycott was not the answer.

"While Northern Ireland Screen supports the right of actors, screen industry businesses and lobby groups to seek to use their influence and the profile of the screen industries to amplify debate on important social issues, we do not support a boycott of production in Northern Ireland," he said.

Women's rights groups in Britain criticised both Disney and Netflix, which have been content to work here despite it having some of the strictest legislation in Europe.

"Those benefiting from tax breaks in Northern Ireland, the likes of Netflix and Disney, should know that women who pay their taxes are not getting access to healthcare on the NHS for their abortions," said Kerry Abel, chairman of the Abortion Rights charity, who advocates a boycott.

"If they think that it is not acceptable to operate in Georgia, they should consider Northern Ireland in the same light."

Campaign group Alliance for Choice backed the boycott call, but said it should be UK-wide.

"Northern Ireland is part of the UK," spokeswoman Emma Gallen said.

"It's Westminster that has the power to change Northern Ireland's abortion laws.

"There should be a full UK boycott in order to make Westminster listen and act.

"If you just boycott Northern Ireland you just hurt Northern Ireland, but it's London that has the power to change things."

It's estimated that the film and TV industry is worth more than a quarter-of-a-billion pounds annually to the local economy, with nine TV dramas and six feature films made here in 2018 alone.

Alliance Party former Belfast Lord Mayor Nuala McAllister said she was opposed to trying to force change through a boycott by US media.

"I'm pleased to see so many celebrities playing an active role in trying to force change in Northern Ireland, but the majority of the people already do support it and a boycott hurts those people who rely on the creative industries more than the politicians blocking change," she said.

In recent months the UK Government has come under pressure to change the law in the continued absence of a functioning government in Stormont.

But a spokesman for the DUP, which strongly opposes liberalisation of the law, said it was a devolved matter for Stormont.

"This is a deeply sensitive issue, and the proper place for that debate is in the Assembly," he said.

"We have a thriving film and TV industry, and it's regrettable that people would try to talk down both the industry and Northern Ireland.

"Most people, regardless of their views on abortion, would be deeply disappointed by this type of campaigning."

The party spokesman added that because of the strict abortion laws in Northern Ireland, more than 100,000 people are alive today who would otherwise have been aborted.

Award-winning Derry Girls scriptwriter Lisa McGee and series star Nicola Coughlan have also criticised the boycott calls.

Ms McGee said she was opposed to a boycott, describing the local film and TV industry as "a light in the darkness".

"While I completely agree that abortion law in Northern Ireland is horrific and a breach of human rights, and that the British Government must intervene and take immediate action to bring it into line with the rest of the UK, I don't feel a boycott of our film and television industry is the answer," she wrote on Twitter.

And Derry Girls star Nicola Coughlan posted on social media: "I've heard that a lot of actors have signed a letter agreeing not to work in the US state of Georgia because of their abortion laws."

"While I think this is a worthy protest are they going to extend this to the UK too, seeing as Northern Ireland has a complete ban on abortion? Just to state I would never boycott working in NI. I absolutely love working there and feel like my time is better spent supporting the women there by speaking out," the actress added.

In 2017 almost 1,000 women from here travelled to England and Wales to terminate pregnancies, while in Northern Ireland 12 legal terminations were carried out in 2017-18.

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