Belfast Telegraph

Voters put abortion worries above Irish language in Stormont priorities – survey

A poll commissioned by an anti-abortion group indicated that twice as many people would rather see safeguards for the unborn than language legislation

Aerial view of the Parliament Buildings at Stormont in Belfast.
Aerial view of the Parliament Buildings at Stormont in Belfast.

By David Young, PA

Almost twice as many people in Northern Ireland are more concerned about changes to abortion laws than an Irish language act, a survey has suggested.

The poll, commissioned by anti-abortion campaign group Both Lives Matter, found that 49% of those asked identified the need to safeguard legal protections for the unborn child, up to 28 weeks into pregnancy, as the most compelling reason for Stormont to be restored.

The survey, which was conducted ahead of the imminent decriminalisation of abortion in the region, found that around half that number (25%) felt protections for Irish language speakers was a more important issue. The remainder – 26% – said they were unsure.

The 1424 respondents were asked which issue they felt was more important in negotiations to resurrect devolved government in the region – an Irish Language Act or safeguarding explicit legal protections for every unborn child up to 28 weeks.

Of unionists polled by LucidTalk, 70% identified the abortion issue as the more important – the percentage was higher among DUP voters, at 80%.

There were contrasting findings for SDLP and Sinn Fein voters. For Sinn Fein supporters, 59% said the Irish language was the more important issue, with 23% saying abortion. For SDLP voters, 52% said abortion and 19% said the Irish language.

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The abortion issue divides opinion in Northern Ireland, with vocal advocates on both sides of the debate (Brian Lawless/PA)

Abortion will be decriminalised in Northern Ireland later this month as a consequence of a law passed by MPs at Westminster in the summer.

The move will only be halted if the Stormont executive is restored by October 21 – a prospect that appears remote given the depth of the rift between the DUP and Sinn Fein.

One of the issues at the heart of the 1,000 day impasse is the Sinn Fein demand for the introduction of an Irish Language Act – a law the DUP has resisted.

If abortion is decriminalised, the Government will take on responsibility for introducing new regulations to provide greater access to abortions in the region by next April.

Anti-abortion activists have urged Stormont politicians to set aside their differences and get back into government to stop the moves to liberalise the abortion laws.

Pro-choice campaigners have welcomed the Westminster intervention to overhaul the region’s strict abortion regime.

There is widespread support across Northern Ireland to protect the unborn Peter Lynas, Evangelical Alliance

While 19th century laws outlawing almost all abortions in Northern Ireland are set to fall away on October 22, the Criminal Justice Act 1945 will still apply in the region.

Section 25(1) of the Act makes it a criminal offence for anyone to assist or wilfully act to “destroy the life of a child then capable of being born alive”.

The Act identifies 28 weeks as the point in pregnancy when life becomes viable outside the womb.

However, medical advances since 1945 mean children born several weeks earlier can now survive.

Anti-abortion campaigners claim that under the specific terms of the Act unborn children could be terminated up to 28 weeks.

The Government has denied that, insisting terminations will not be permitted after 24 weeks – the current time limit in Great Britain.

Commenting on the survey results, Peter Lynas, Northern Ireland director of the Evangelical Alliance, said: “The ‘will of the people’ has become a very contested phrase, especially since the Brexit vote.

“When it comes to abortion and Northern Ireland, it is actually much easier to determine. Stormont looked at the issue of abortion before it collapsed and decided not to change the law. No Northern Ireland MP voted in favour of the abortion amendment and in recent weeks the majority of councils in Northern Ireland have voted against the proposed abortion changes.”

Mr Lynas added: “This polling shows a deal can be done. There is widespread support across Northern Ireland to protect the unborn. Unionists voters will accept a deal on the Irish Language Act as long as abortion is limited. Many on the nationalist side want the same. The ball is now in Sinn Fein’s court.”

PA

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