Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Votes show London's patience running out

The votes at Westminster potentially extending same-sex marriage legislation to Northern Ireland and amending abortion laws here could be seen as a blunt warning to stay-away Assembly Members that patience over the political stalemate at Stormont is wearing extremely thin
The votes at Westminster potentially extending same-sex marriage legislation to Northern Ireland and amending abortion laws here could be seen as a blunt warning to stay-away Assembly Members that patience over the political stalemate at Stormont is wearing extremely thin

Editor's Viewpoint

The votes at Westminster potentially extending same-sex marriage legislation to Northern Ireland and amending abortion laws here could be seen as a blunt warning to stay-away Assembly Members that patience over the political stalemate at Stormont is wearing extremely thin.

There will be no changes to the laws on these issues unless devolution is not restored by October 21. However, as history shows, local politicians - particularly Sinn Fein and the DUP - do not react kindly to deadlines. The local political landscape is littered with broken deadlines, and it would be no surprise if that were the case again.

The DUP, which has its face set strongly against any changes to existing abortion laws or extending same-sex marriage to the province, has already made its position clear, and remains at clear odds with the rest of the UK.

Deputy leader Nigel Dodds said before the vote on the same-sex marriage amendment that if MPs approved it, that would drive a coach and horses through the principle of devolution.

However, the fact that Stormont has been in mothballs for more than two-and-a-half-years does little to demonstrate that the two main parties here are enthusiastic about restoring devolution, no matter how much they protest that they want to go back into the Assembly.

The DUP could take some consolation from the statements made by Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt in the hustings here recently. Both said they would like to see devolution restored and insisted that contentious issues like abortion reform and same-sex marriage legislation would be best dealt with by local politicians.

Whichever of those two wins the race to 10 Downing Street, they will depend on the DUP to preserve a Tory Government, and that remains the party's ace in any negotiations.

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The scale of the majority in favour of the amendments makes it unlikely that either vote could be overturned in the Commons, but any future Assembly could amend or overturn the proposed laws if Stormont was restored.

The bottom line on all of this is that the whole gamut of legislation for running Northern Ireland - from day-to-day governance issues to major policies - is being frozen because Sinn Fein and the DUP cannot reach a compromise which would allow devolution to be restored. That situation cannot continue indefinitely.

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