Northern Ireland news

Leaders join forces to stop abortion becoming law in Northern Ireland

Baroness Nuala O'Loan. Picture by Hugh Russell
Mairead Holland

A LETTER calling on the government to prevent an abortion law coming into force in Northern Ireland is being delivered to Prime Minister Theresa May today.

The letter has been signed by more than 5,000 people, led by Baroness Nuala O'Loan and Archbishop Robin Eames, along with a cross-community group of Northern Irish peers, MLAs and MPs.

The Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill, which opponents say would introduce "an extreme change to abortion law", is due to be debated in committee stage in the House of Lords this afternoon.

The group is calling on Mrs May to either pull the bill, not allowing it to complete its remaining stage and become law, or ensure that the clause is only taken forward if the people of Northern Ireland are consulted and a majority of MLAs support it.

Baroness O'Loan said: "I am shocked to see that the government has dropped their long-standing policy of neutrality on abortion and respect for devolution. In 2016 the Northern Assembly voted by a clear majority against changing the abortion law.

"One hundred percent of Northern Ireland MPs who have taken their seats in Westminster voted against the amendment introduced by Stella Creasy. None of the MPs who voted for it represent constituencies in Northern Ireland.

"These and other matters form part of the current negotiations being conducted by the government in an attempt to restore the Northern Irish Assembly - something the people of Northern Ireland are crying out for. To do this at this time is to imperil the future of those talks."

She added: "I have been inundated with messages objecting to the fact that the government is proposing to ignore the devolution settlement and amend the defective bill and support it rather than acting to respect the expressed will of the people of Northern Ireland."

Meanwhile, Ulster Unionist peer Lord Empey has tabled a number of amendments to the bill in areas including health and waiting times, concessions for "genuine" RHI claimants, the suicide prevention strategy and welfare support.

He said: "As someone who was involved in the negotiations of the Belfast Agreement and who served as a Minister in the first and second Stormont Executives, I find it immensely disheartening that Northern Ireland has now been without a functioning government for two and half years.

"I have also been growing increasingly frustrated with the UK government for allowing the impasse, and general deterioration across all key public services, to run on for so long."

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