Northern Ireland

Arlene Foster hits out at 'street celebrations' after abortion referendum

Arlene Foster hit out at "people taking to the streets in celebration" after the Republic voted in favour of repealing the eighth amendment
Arlene Foster hit out at "people taking to the streets in celebration" after the Republic voted in favour of repealing the eighth amendment

ARLENE Foster has rejected calls for Westminster to reform Northern Ireland's abortion laws amid the political stalemate at Stormont.

She also hit out at "people taking to the streets in celebration" after the Republic's vote.

"Friday's referendum has no impact upon the law in Northern Ireland, but we obviously take note of issues impacting upon our nearest neighbour," she said.

"The legislation governing abortion is a devolved matter and it is for the Northern Ireland Assembly to debate and decide such issues. Some of those who wish to circumvent the assembly's role may be doing so simply to avoid its decision.

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"The DUP is a pro-life party and we will continue to articulate our position. It is an extremely sensitive issue and not one that should have people taking to the streets in celebration."

She added: "Some of those demanding change are the same people blocking devolution or demanding that Westminster change the law whilst simultaneously opposing direct rule."

Abortion is currently only permitted in Northern Ireland if the mother's life is at risk or there is a permanent or serious risk to her mental or physical health.

In 2016, Stormont voted against legalising abortion in cases of fatal foetal abnormality (FFA) – when medics believe the unborn will die in the womb or shortly after birth – after the DUP asked for a working group to be set up to examine the issue.

Its report, which recommends legislative reform, was completed in October 2016 but was only published last month.

Meanwhile, SDLP leader Colum Eastwood commended "both sides for emphatically defending their conscience" during the referendum campaign.

The party recently changed its policy to give members a free vote on abortion issues, but maintains a 'pro-life' stance.

He said the referendum was a "stark reminder" of the absence of a power-sharing government at Stormont, and urged politicians to examine the FFA report to "ensure our laws are fit for purpose and the days of exporting this issue are brought to an end".

Alliance MLA Paula Bradshaw said she was hopeful the referendum would mean women in Northern Ireland would not have to travel across the Irish Sea to seek a termination.

But she said "those delaying the return of the devolved institutions need to take on board this referendum result and the step forward for equality and healthcare it represents, and realise not having an assembly means more ducking of the matter".

Clare Bailey, Green Party MLA for South Belfast, also said the Stormont stalemate "means that Northern Ireland remains stuck in a regressive rut and will now be seen as one of the most oppressive regimes in western Europe".

"I'm now calling for change through Westminster."