Belfast Telegraph

Stormont must be up and running if politicians want to influence abortion reform, says Smith

Gareth Cross

By Gareth Cross

Secretary of State Julian Smith had warned MLAs that Stormont must be running by Monday if they want any influence over abortion reform in Northern Ireland.

An intensive phase of talks aiming to restore power-sharing at Stormont will take place on Thursday and Friday.

The Secretary of State said that he had met with DUP leader Arlene Foster yesterday.

The talks will be the last opportunity for local parties to reach an agreement before Monday, October 21, when the UK government will become obligated to introduce new abortion and same-sex marriage laws for Northern Ireland.

"The key message to parties in the talks is if you want to influence the abortion reform that has been set by Westminster we need to get movement this week," Mr Smith told UTV.

"We need to get movement for decision-making across the board this week to help public services, help citizens in Northern Ireland get the decisions they need, but to shape that abortion law, reform that is best shaped in Northern Ireland, we need parties in talks this week and to be back in an Executive by next Monday."

Sunday marked 1,000 days since Northern Ireland last had a functioning Assembly.

The largest obstacle remains an Irish Language Act, with the DUP refusing to budge on what remains a red line for Sinn Fein.

Sinn Fein vice-president Michelle O'Neill said that the government's stance on Brexit talks was impeding the restoration of Stormont.

"The British Government's proposal of a unionist veto in the Brexit context is totally unacceptable and makes political progress even more difficult," the Mid Ulster MLA said.

"In terms of attempts to restore the political institutions, let me be absolutely clear, there will be no unionist veto at Stormont in terms of the Brexit negotiations."

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood again suggested reforming the controversial 'petition of concern' veto mechanism in an attempt to restore power-sharing.

"The SDLP has made bold proposals for a fair reform of the petition of concern that, we believe, all parties can back that would allow the restoration of government in the short term," Foyle MLA Mr Eastwood said.

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