Northern Ireland news

Anti-abortion group seeks to secure support for assembly recall

The Assembly Chamber in Parliament Buildings, Stormont
Brendan Hughes

AN ANTI-abortion campaign group has said it is seeking to gain support from enough MLAs to trigger a recall of the Stormont assembly.

Both Lives Matter wants the assembly recalled before Westminster legislation takes effect next week which will reform the north's abortion laws.

Under Stormont rules, the signatures of 30 MLAs are needed for the speaker to recall the assembly.

DUP MLAs have backed a recall, but others branded the party's move a "political stunt".

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

Both Lives Matter yesterday said more than 30 MLAs signed its pledge to return to Stormont before the deadline.

"We are now seeking to facilitate a recall petition. We will be seeking those 30 signatures because lives matter," the group tweeted.

It comes after the former Police Ombudsman, Baroness Nuala O'Loan, wrote an open letter urging Secretary of State Julian Smith to recall the assembly before abortion law changes took effect.

She said Northern Ireland needed its own legislature "most of all to deal with the difficulty of the situation with regard to abortion if the assembly and executive are not reformed".

DUP leader Arlene Foster said she supported the call and the party's assembly team "agreed to seek a recall of the assembly".

"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.

The party would have 27 MLAs able to sign the petition as Robin Newton is the assembly speaker.

TUV leader Jim Allister and independent unionist MLA Claire Sugden have suggested they would also sign a recall petition, leaving just one more signature required.

However, the NI Assembly pointed out that if recalled, the legislation requires that the first business is the election of a speaker and deputy speakers, which is on a cross-community basis.

"If this item is not completed successfully, the assembly cannot proceed to conduct any further business," a spokeswoman added.

Sinn Féin vice-president Michelle O'Neill tweeted: "Arlene Foster's call for the assembly to sit before Monday is a pointless political stunt."

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood also criticised the DUP move, branding it "cynical" and "designed to get them off the hook for three years of irresponsible behaviour".

He called for a "willingness to compromise" to restore devolution, saying it would not happen while the DUP and Sinn Féin remain "intractably divided".

Speaking to BBC Radio Ulster's Talkback programme, Alliance leader Naomi Long also criticised the DUP move.

"It's the kind of brinkmanship which is unhelpful if they seriously want to get the assembly restored, get everybody back in and doing the job in a consistent way to deal with all of these issues," she said.

A UUP spokeswoman said: "Regarding the attempt to recall the assembly, it is important to note that the recall petition on its own is not enough to achieve the return of the devolved institutions if the outstanding issues between the parties have not been resolved."

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