21/10/2019

MLAs Return To Stormont Over Abortion Reforms

A cohort of local MLAs will take their seats at Stormont today for the first time in over 1000 days in a bid to stop abortion reforms.

The session, perceived as largely symbolic, follows a recall petition in protest of the impending legislative changes.

In a move supported by the DUP, Baroness Nuala O'Loan urged the Secretary of State to reestablish the Assembly on or before Monday 21 October, the date by which the UK Government is obliged to legislate.

MPs approved amendments to the NI (Executive and Formation) Act, including a relaxation of local abortion laws and the allowance of same sex marriage, in July.

Some 27 DUP MLAs, supported by TUV Leader Jim Allister, UUP Leader Robin Swann and his party colleagues Robbie Butler and Roy Beggs provided the 30 signatures required to recall the Assembly.

The return to the chamber will see MLAs discuss the matter, however no legislative functions can be formed in the absence of a ministerial Executive.

Sinn Fein has been clear its MLAs will not attend the sitting but said the party remains ready to establish an Executive on the basis of "equality, rights and integrity".

Michell O'Neill commented on Sunday: "Rights for LBGT+ people & women cannot & will not be vetoed tomorrow.

"Sinn Féin will not allow this to happen.

"The DUP will pretend they are trying to set up an Executive - a cynical stunt."

Alliance Leader Naomi Long also confirmed that her MLAs will not be involved in the talks.

Echoing calls of a "cynical political stunt", the MEP said the sitting has no prospect of leading to the formation of an Executive and risks preventing any further restoration of devolved government.
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Ms Long said: "The intention of this recall is not to block abortion law and equal marriage, but to create the illusion the DUP are trying to do so. Regardless of our individual views on abortion, Alliance believes it is not appropriate to treat a serious issue with profound consequences in such a cynical matter and we want nothing to do with such a charade. It has already caused genuine fear and anxiety for those who believe a meeting of the Assembly will have any effect, including LGBT couples who have arranged marriages for next year.

"In addition, raising the expectations of the wider community that a sustainable Assembly can be formed without any intensive negotiations, compromise from the two largest parties, or reform of the institutions to make them fit for purpose is fundamentally dishonest. We will not be party to such a lie.

"Alliance's MLAs will be in Parliament Buildings on Monday, as they have been every week since the collapse of the institutions. Not only are we available for talks but we demand they start immediately. If those who signed this petition feel so strongly about the formation of an Executive and wish to take decisions, they must take responsibility for reaching a deal to deliver that. We are ready to play our part in forming an Assembly and Executive which is able to effect real change and make progress for everyone in our community."

Responding to the announcement that Alliance MLAs will not attend, DUP Assembly Chief Whip Gordon Lyons accused the party of hiding behind preconditions.

"DUP MLAs will enter the chamber to engage in a respectful debate on a hugely sensitive issue," Mr Lyons said. "We also go in fully prepared to nominate Ministers, form an Executive and get on with the job we were elected to do. Every MLA has the opportunity and the choice to participate in that process or they can stand behind preconditions and refuse to take part.

"Naomi Long has decided to echo Michelle O'Neill's disregard for devolution, for the people of Northern Ireland and most importantly for the lives of the unborn. Both have chosen to dismiss the genuine motivations of those who have driven this initiative as being engaged in stunt politics."





(JG/MH)

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