Northern Ireland news

Catholic bishops: 'Deeply offensive' to describe Stormont sitting on abortion as ‘stunt'

Protesters gathered outside Stormont as unionist MLAs attempted to debate Westminster-imposed changes to abortion law
Staff Reporter

CATHOLIC bishops last night said it was "deeply offensive" to dismiss a Stormont sitting on changes to abortion laws as a ‘stunt’.

In a statement, the Northern Ireland bishops said the attempt by pro-life politicians to recall the Assembly was an issue of “fundamental importance”.

Abortion has been decriminalised and same-sex marriage legalised in the north from today after legislation enacted in Westminster took effect in the absence of a Stormont executive.

A petition signed by 30 unionist MLAs, including all 27 DUP assembly members, saw the return of the assembly yesterday in an effort to block the changes.

However, proceedings collapsed in farce after they were unable to elect a speaker.

Sinn Féin stayed away from the chamber, with vice-president Michelle O’Neill describing it as "a day of political stunts, of antics.”

Pro-choice and anti-abortion groups protest at Stormont ahead of yesterday's hastily organised session. Picture by Mal McCann

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood, whose MLAs attended the start of proceedings but walked out, said: "We will not be party to a stunt that is using and abusing people's emotions and sensitivities over a very, very difficult issue, which could have been dealt with at any point over the last 1,000 days."

Alliance leader Naomi Long also said it was a "cynical political stunt."

The bishops said: "To describe as a ‘stunt’ the efforts of thousands of citizens from all sections of our community to make use of the democratic system to address an issue of such fundamental importance is deeply offensive.

Anti-abortion activists in the grounds of Stormont Parliament, Belfast this morning. Picture by Mal McCann 

"The unavoidable truth is that our locally elected representatives had the time and the power to prevent this draconian Westminster abortion legislation being introduced over the heads of local citizens but chose not to do so.

"It is the duty of citizens to hold their elected representatives accountable for the decisions they have made."

The bishops appealed to parties to redouble their efforts to restore the executive to deal with the abortion legislation and a range of other issues.

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