Northern Ireland news

Sinn Féin and DUP defeat Belfast City Council abortion motion

A 'Rally for Choice', supported by Amnesty International, in Belfast last month. Picture by Aoife Moore, Press Association

SINN Féin has joined the DUP to reject a Belfast City Council motion expressing support for legislation on abortion and gay marriage.

Councillors clashed on Monday night over plans to liberalise Northern Ireland's abortion laws.

An initial motion, proposed by the DUP's Brian Kingston, said the council should write to Secretary of State Julian Smith to state its opposition to the imposition of changes to abortion law by Westminster.

MPs voted in July for same-sex marriage to be legalised and abortion decriminalised if a power-sharing assembly does not return by October 21.

New regulations liberalising the north's strict abortion laws would be put in place by March 2020.

Mr Kingston set out the DUP's anti-abortion position and said the Westminster vote was "an abuse of parliamentary procedure".

"Legislation should reflect local conscience on the matter," he said.

Mr Kingston's motion was defeated.

Green councillor Áine Groogan proposed that the council should instead write to Mr Smith to "express our strong support for both abortion and equal marriage legislation".

"Abortion is healthcare," she said. "It is not a crime."

"The absence of a functioning assembly has led to the situation where Westminster has taken the brave decision to legislate to ensure our laws are human rights compliant and that people in Northern Ireland have the same rights as those elsewhere in the UK."

However, her amendment was defeated after Sinn Féin and the DUP voted against it.

Sinn Féin proposed its own amendment calling for the assembly to be re-established "on the basis of rights and equality and provide modern healthcare for women including terminations where a woman's life, health or mental health is at risk and in cases of fatal foetal abnormality and sexual crime".

Abortion is currently permitted in Northern Ireland only in very limited circumstances, while it is allowed up to 24 weeks in Britain and 12 weeks in the Republic.

Councillor Claire Canavan said there "was an urgent need for reform of current legislation on abortion because it is incompatible with human rights requirements".

She also said the assembly, rather than Westminster, should decide on key issues including abortion.

However, she added that the party supported the decriminalisation of abortion.

Ms Canavan's amendment was also defeated.

Meanwhile, Sinn Féin and Alliance have clashed over a proposal for bilingual signs at leisure centres in west Belfast.

The council voted by 30 votes to 25 on Tuesday to instead refer the matter to party leaders at City Hall for further discussion.

Alliance's Michael Long accused Sinn Féin of attempting to "ghettoise" the language, claiming it "sends out a negative message that the Irish language only belongs to one tradition".

The party said it wants to extend the option of signs to all parts of the city.

However, Sinn Féin's Niall Ó Donnghaile said "nothing would have prevented Alliance seeking a citywide review of approach to centres while at the same acceding to the very modest call for IL (Irish language) signage, in line with existing, agreed language policy, in areas with an obviously high and growing concentration of Irish speakers".

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