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New Bill could change Northern Ireland laws on abortion and same-sex marriage

Archbishop Eamon Martin
Archbishop Eamon Martin
Bishop Noel Treanor

By Claire McNeilly and David Young

MPs will try to change the laws on abortion and same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland, restrict future prosecutions of British soldiers for Troubles killings, and block a no-deal Brexit in the Commons today.

The Government has tabled a Bill to delay any new Assembly election while talks to restore power-sharing are ongoing, but it has attracted several unexpected amendments.

Former Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon has tabled one amendment seeking to establish a distinction between soldiers and terrorists. Under his proposals, prosecutors would be given new guidance encouraging them only to bring cases against terrorist suspects.

Troops who had been "supplied with a deadly weapon" lawfully by the State would only be charged if prosecutors believed they could show that the soldiers had deliberately gone out to commit murder.

Sir Michael told the Sunday Telegraph: "We understand it is being looked at seriously.

"It will distinguish between those who were equipped with a lawfully issued weapon and whose who were not. This addresses the issue of intent."

DUP defence spokesman Gavin Robinson MP said in response: "We will need to carefully look at each amendment in relation to the Northern Ireland Bill.

"While republicans demand the truth from soldiers and police officers, they hide from the truth about their dark and terrible past. The DUP is very clear that we are opposed to the rewriting of the past and attempts to introduce an amnesty."

Meanwhile, the leader of the Catholic Church in Ireland has voiced concerns over amendments by Labour MP Stella Creasy seeking to extend abortion provision. Up to 60 MPs from across the House are expected to support her.

Archbishop Eamon Martin said it was "tragic... that some legislators would 'fast track' the ending of the lives of the most defenceless in our society".

Also, in a statement read out at Masses in the Diocese of Down and Connor at the weekend, Bishop Noel Treanor said the Bill is "being used to introduce amendments aiming to liberalise provision of abortion in Northern Ireland without the say-so of either the citizens of Northern Ireland or their elected representatives".

He urged people to contact their MP "to register their objection to this undemocratic process".

Ms Creasy's Labour colleague, Co Armagh native Conor McGinn, is planning to target the same Bill with an amendment aimed at changing the law here on same-sex marriage.

Meanwhile, former Attorney General Dominic Grieve said the Bill was a "perfectly legitimate place" to explore ways to block a no-deal Brexit.

He told Pienaar's Politics: "We're going to have, in the course of the next 24 hours, an important Bill on Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland and Brexit go rather closely together.

"The chances are if Brexit goes through - a no-deal Brexit - it is going to be the end of Northern Ireland's union with the United Kingdom, with serious political consequences.

"That's a Bill that is a perfectly legitimate place to start looking at how one might make sure no-deal Brexits are fully debated before they take place."

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