Belfast Telegraph

Stormont Assembly to sit on Monday to discuss abortion reform after MLAs sign recall petition

Locked gates at Stormont in Belfast (Niall Carson/PA)
Locked gates at Stormont in Belfast (Niall Carson/PA)
Gareth Cross

By Gareth Cross

The Stormont Assembly is set to sit for the first time since 2017 on Monday after over 30 MLAs backed a recall petition.

MLAs will meet in the Assembly chamber to discuss changes to Northern Ireland's abortions laws which are set to be introduced from Westminster.

Legislation passed earlier this year will introduce liberal abortion regulations and same-sex marriage if a Stormont Executive was not reformed by October 21.

It comes after former Police Ombudsman Baroness Nuala O'Loan wrote to Secretary of State Julian Smith urging him to recall the Assembly before Monday's deadline.

The call was backed by DUP leader Arlene Foster who said that her party's MLAs supported the recall.

Sinn Fein vice-president Michelle O'Neill had previously described the proposal as a "pointless political stunt".

Mrs Foster said the sitting would allow MLAs to voice their opposition to the law changes.

"Hopefully we will be able to debate the issue on Monday," she said.

Pro-life campaign group Both Lives Matter said that they had collected the 31 signatures necessary to trigger the recall.

It is also being backed by TUV leader Jim Allister, UUP leader Robin Swann and UUP MLAs Roy Beggs and Robbie Butler.

DUP leader Arlene Foster (Danny Lawson/PA)
DUP leader Arlene Foster (Danny Lawson/PA)

The Assembly can be recalled if the Speaker, currently the DUP's Robin Newton, receives a request from over 30 MLAs.

Mr Newton confirmed that he had received the required signatures and said he had written to all 90 MLAs regarding the special sitting.

He said that it is expected the Assembly will meet at 12pm to discuss the motion "that this Assembly agrees that the legislative position in Northern Ireland will most appropriately be determined by the Northern Ireland Assembly".

The move is unlikely to have any affect on the new abortion and same-sex marriage legislation because in order to stop the laws being introduced a new Speaker must be elected and a new Executive must be formed.

This will be impossible without the support of Sinn Fein.

A Sinn Fein spokesman told the PA news agency that it would not participate.

“Arlene Foster’s ‘proposal’ to recall the Assembly on Monday is a pointless political stunt, which has literally no impact unless its business is to appoint an Executive who does have the power to effect legal change,” a Sinn Fein spokesman said.

“That will clearly not be the case unless resolute action to guarantee human rights and equality in law is negotiated and agreed by the DUP.”

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood described the move as "cynical" and said it was "shallow choreography".

“We are a party of devolution. We want a government back. But the cold reality is that the restoration of an inclusive Executive requires political agreement between the DUP and Sinn Fein," the Foyle MLA said.

"We will not be able to secure a new government while they remain intractably divided. We have demonstrated our willingness to compromise. It’s time for others to do the same.”

Alliance MLA Trevor Lunn accused those taking part as "showboating" and said it could damage the permanent return of the Assembly.

He said the move would "raise the expectations of the public, only to have them knowingly dashed".

“It appears those wanting to go back on Monday are only doing so to try and deny LGBTQ people and women the rights guaranteed to them in the rest of the UK. I previously attempted to make some modest changes to abortion law here but that was blocked by other parties," the Lagan Valley MLA said.

“There is no doubt there are serious issues remaining unresolved. But serious parties would have engaged intensively on resolving them ahead of Monday, instead of grandstanding. Such showboating contributed to the collapse of the institutions and will do nothing to aid their return. Indeed, they may make that more difficult.

“If people are serious about restoration and good governance, they will still be serious on Tuesday.”

MLAs last sat in the Assembly chamber in March 2017 following the death of former deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness.

Northern Ireland has been without an Executive for over 1,000 days since Mr McGuinness resigned in January 2017 in the wake of the RHI scandal and equality issues.

Belfast Telegraph Digital

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph