Possibility of Northern Ireland Abortion and Gay Marriage Referendum Raised

In a really positive move, a Northern Ireland minister has agreed to discuss the idea of holding referendums on reforming the region’s abortion and gay marriage laws.

The UK parliament

This comes after a debate in the House of Lords which discussed emergency legislation linked to the fact that Stormont is not up and running and doesn’t look like it will be for some time.

Important Legislation

The main aim of the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation and Exercise of Functions) Bill was to deal with this issue, allowing legislation to be passed and give breathing space to the Northern Irish political parties whilst they sort their major differences out and get the government working again.

However, the proceedings were dominated by a row over an MP-backed move to extend certain human rights protections to Northern Ireland in the absence of a devolved administration.

In a vote in the UK parliament last week, backing was given to an amendment that required ministers to issue guidance to Northern Ireland civil servants to ensure compliance with UK abortion and same-sex marriage legislation.

The move is under attack from certain parties as abortion and gay marriage are seen as devolved issues by many in the region. However, they are countered by those who say that without devolved government, are things never going to be allowed to change?

Labour former Cabinet minister Lord Adonis said: “If Northern Ireland wishes to exercise the prerogatives of devolution, it must operate devolved institutions.”

He added: “If they do not sit and legislate, then we have a duty to legislate in their place, because there is no one else who can do it.”
Opposing the amendment, Democratic Unionist Party peer Lord Browne of Belmont said: “What we have here, I rather suspect, is an attempt to change the law through guidance.

“It is proper for those matters to be dealt with by the devolved institutions.”

Give The People a Voice

I have to say, I want gay marriage and abortion rights in Northern Ireland. Though I do understand there are issues over devolved power, if people like the DUP want to stop these rights, they can do it from inside Stormont as part of a functioning government on a policy platform that says where they lie on the issue. If there is no Stormont, this should go to the people who can then make a decision about what is best for them and their nation.

With a referendum, both sides can put their opinions across and we can really see where public opinion lies on such big issues.

I am not here to second guess the result of that vote, but people not being given a chance to fight for what they will see as basic human rights because of a political stalemate just doesn’t sit well with me.

We will watch this with interest.

Martin Ward
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