Belfast Telegraph

Westminster's Northern Ireland abortion amendment 'most insidious' of bill changes

Arlene Foster said Northern Ireland's voice should be made on imposing laws from Westminster. Pic BBC
Arlene Foster said Northern Ireland's voice should be made on imposing laws from Westminster. Pic BBC
Jonathan Bell

By Jonathan Bell

DUP leader Arlene Foster said Westminster's bid to liberalise Northern Ireland abortion laws was the "most insidious" of all the changes imposed on the Northern Ireland bill progressing through parliament.

She also said "serious negotiations" were ongoing to restore power sharing between the parties.

Speaking to the BBC from Portrush at The Open, she said if MLAs backed same-sex marriage in the Assembly it would go ahead but said there needed to be protections put in place locally for churches and those that believed marriage should be between a man and a woman.

The MLA said her party's support for an amendment on pensions for Troubles victims was to add "balance" to the bill.

Mrs Foster said she had held conversations with Sinn Fein's Michelle O'Neill and did not believe there was "any support at all" for abortion up to 28 weeks in Northern Ireland.

"There is no way that would pass through the Assembly in Northern Ireland," she said.

"There is a need to deal with that matter and get a distinctive Northern Ireland voice to deal with what the people here want."

The Northern Ireland Executive Formation Bill was originally intended to ensure continuing good governance in NI and to put back a legal obligation to call an Assembly election. It could become law this week with same-sex marriage introduced and abortion laws liberalised in the new year - if Stormont is not restored by October 21.

Suggesting Westminster passing laws for Northern Ireland got her party "off the hook," Mrs Foster said it was an "abdication of our responsibility as political leaders" and she did not accept the notion.

She said it was a question for Sinn Fein how they felt about Westminster passing local laws and she believed the party wanted Stormont restored.

"Sinn Fein walked away, the DUP did not walk away," the MLA said.

Serious negotiations

Mrs Foster said talks between the parties on restoring devolution were happening and would continue to do so into the coming week.

She said there were "serious negotiations" going on with all the parties but the other parties understood there were issues that needed to be resolved between her party and Sinn Fein.

The DUP leader said if a new Executive was formed it should be one of all the parties.

"Of course it is odd we don't have a government we need to get the government back up and running again," she added.

As Teresa May bows out of office, Mrs Foster said the confidence and supply deal with the Conservatives would continue as it was an agreement between the two parties and not their respective leaders.

She said work had to be done to get a deal with the EU but the backstop had to be dispensed with.

Asked if she would support Boris Johnson's attempts to exit without a deal, she said it was a long way to go until the end of October.

"We are looking to get a deal that works for everyone."

Open legacy immense

Turning to The Open at Portrush, she said the competition coming to Northern Ireland had been "beyond expectation".

Asked about the late Martin McGuinness's absence given his work in helping to bring the tournament to Northern Ireland.

She said she was "sure there were many people that would have loved to be here, but unfortunately can not be here".

"But for Northern Ireland the legacy this will leave will be immense," she said.

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