Belfast Telegraph

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson: Gay marriage and abortion votes anti-democratic and takes away our right to set laws and regulations

Stella Creasy
Stella Creasy
Conor McGinn

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson

Tuesday signalled a real sea change in the prospects for devolution. It is a worrying and anti-democratic change which challenges the right of the people of Northern Ireland and their elected representatives to create our own laws and regulations.

At a time when hospital waiting lists are growing and our schools need more support to provide basic education, decisions cannot be made on those issues. In particular the vital health reforms outlined in the Bengoa Report sit on a shelf gathering dust.

The DUP remains strongly pro-life and we support the traditional definition of marriage. We respect other views and believe the best place to debate these issues is in the NI Assembly, where we can all ensure our laws reflect the particular needs and circumstances of NI.

That is the purpose of devolution. The actions of the House of Commons on Tuesday drive a coach and horses through the devolution settlement. In fact for those of us who want an Executive back today, Tuesday's decisions are nothing to be celebrated. Indeed, it will make it much more likely to delay the restoration of the Assembly, because Sinn Fein will simply sit it out until October and beyond.

Bizarrely Sinn Fein, as an Irish republican party, seem happy to hand over responsibility to the British Government on these most sensitive of issues. So much for wanting to 'end British rule' or advocating for 'Brits out'!

To those who say that the DUP can stop this through our confidence and supply agreement, there are many factors to consider.

These are free vote issues for both Conservative Party and Labour Party so they will not whip to vote for or against on such issues when debated in Parliament. Once this Bill is passed it's the law.

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No Prime Minister can wish that away.

Nevertheless, this is not the end of the road.

It is far from certain that the NIO can bring forward adequate legislation in time for October.

As the NIO Minister John Penrose has stated, that due to the current drafting of a new clause, the changes that would need to occur before the first same-sex couple could legally marry in Northern Ireland are probably not achievable by October. The same applies to abortion, which is an even more complex issue.

From a Northern Ireland specific context there are many issues which need to be considered and which differ from England, Scotland and Wales. This is not a simple matter of having a carbon copy of the legislation which applies in other parts of the United Kingdom.

This applies to matters such as pensions, the conversion of civil partnerships, gender recognition, protecting the rights to freedom of religion and expression, and allowing religious institutions via opt-in, rather than compelling them, to engage in and perform same-sex marriage ceremonies. Similar protections are also needed if abortion law here is liberalised in any way.

For those who believe direct rule is needed - these are the consequences.

There are wider issues which affect everyone in Northern Ireland in relation to our hospitals, schools and roads, which function in limbo with no locally elected minister in place.

The legislation proposed by Conor McGinn and Stella Creasy will be enacted by regulation and not a further Bill. This means the regulations cannot be amended and the Commons may not even be able to vote on them.

What way is this to deal with such sensitive and emotive issues? Even at this stage we will seek to persuade others that these matters need to be dealt with by a restored Assembly.

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson MP is the DUP chief whip

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