21/10/2019

Stormont: Attempt To Halt Abortion Reform Blocked

The first sitting of the Stormont Assembly in almost three years today saw a last-ditch attempt to halt the decriminalisation of abortion blocked.

MLAs returned to the chamber at 1pm on Monday 21 October, with the DUP, UUP, SDLP, TUV Leader Jim Allister and Independent member for East L'Derry Claire Sugden taking their seats.

The Assembly meeting came in the absence of an Executive following a recall petition to prevent UK Government legislation reforming local abortion laws and introducing same-sex marriage by midnight tonight.

Pro-life MLAs attempted to use private members' legislation to halt the reform, however outgoing speaker Robin Newtown prevented the matter being considered on the basis of legal advice received.

Mr Newtown claimed a new speaker would need to be in place for such a measure to proceed, but such an election requires cross-community support from the chamber.

While Sinn Fein, the Green Party and Alliance opted not to attend and branded the move a political stunt, the SDLP took their seats for a period.

Party Leader Colum Eastwood told the chamber he would not provide cross community support to elect a speaker in defence of the Good Friday Agreement.
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The Foyle MLA then walked his party out of the Assembly, commenting later: "The Good Friday Agreement says there should be a power-sharing Executive, an Assembly and a North-South Ministerial Council. It doesn't say anything about setting up a unionist dominated shadow Assembly that will not take into account anybody else's views but their own."

Meanwhile, marriage equality campaigners across Northern Ireland are celebrating ahead of the introduction of same-sex marriage after 12pm this evening.

Amnesty International campaigner Patrick Corrigan welcomed the move in a post on Twitter, writing: "For years, campaigners have fought for equality and rights for people in Northern Ireland. It's been a long road and there's more to do, but at midnight, we make history.

"Today, we celebrate success, secured not because of the presence of Stormont, but because of its absence. Despite overwhelming popular support for changes to the law, sadly the Executive and Assembly repeatedly failed to deliver marriage equality and abortion reform.

"When Stormont collapsed, we took our campaigns to Westminster. On July 9, I was proud to be in the House of Commons when it voted by a huge margin in favour of the crucial amendments tabled by MPs Conor McGinn and Stella Creasy.

"This is an incredible moment for so many people, especially for same-sex couples who will now be treated as equal citizens in their own country and women who will no longer face the prospect of prosecution for seeking healthcare. Today is for them.

"We all owe a debt to every woman and every couple who told their story publicly, every member of the public who marched with us year after year, and every elected representative in Belfast and London who voted for change. We did this together."



(JG/CM)

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