Northern Ireland news

Baroness Nuala O'Loan appeals to Julian Smith to recall assembly before abortion law introduced

Baroness Nuala O’Loan has urged secretary of state Julian Smith to recall the assembly before abortion is decriminalised in the north
Connla Young

BARONESS Nuala O’Loan has urged Secretary of State Julian Smith to recall the assembly before abortion legislation takes effect in the north next week.

The former Police Ombudsman wrote an open letter to the Conservative minister just days before abortion laws are liberalised on October 21.

The call came after almost 23,500 people signed a petition calling on Mr Smith to recall the assembly.

It also urges MLAs to return to Stormont ahead of next week’s deadline.

Legislation decriminalising abortion was passed in Westminster earlier this year and can only be halted if the Stormont executive is restored by October 21.

Ms O’Loan told Mr Smith that the assembly, which has not sat for more than 1,000 days amid a dispute between Sinn Féin and the DUP, must be restored.

“I ask you to respond positively to this request given the urgency of the situation,” she wrote.

Nuala O'Loan: Abortion vote in Westminster was a denial of democracy

“We need our own legislature to deal with matters relating to Brexit, to all the numerous and urgent problems which exist in Northern Ireland, and most of all to deal with the difficulty of the situation with regard to abortion if the assembly and executive are not reformed.”

Secretary of State Julian Smith

She said the “situation is unprecedented” and referred to the recent publication of guidelines to healthcare professionals.

“Despite the recent publication of guidelines there is an enormous lack of clarity about the situation which will prevail between 22 October and the introduction of new regulations,” she wrote.

DUP leader Arlene Foster last night backed Ms O’Loan’s call.

“We urge other MLAs who oppose the extreme liberalisation of our abortion law to step outside any party shackles and join us in recalling the assembly,” she said.

Abortion changes will allow terminations of up to 28 weeks during interim period, Nuala O'Loan argues

A UK government spokesperson said: “The secretary of state is doing everything he can to get Stormont back up and running and is holding intensive talks with the parties this week.

“He has no power or role to recall the assembly, as that function is conferred on the speaker for the assembly.

“The assembly can only be recalled by the speaker, by agreement of the parties.”

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