Northern Ireland news

Karen Bradley backs abortion and same sex marriage 'equal rights' in north

Karen Bradley supports the extension of equal rights on marriage and abortion to Northern Ireland. Picture by Niall Carson/PA Wire

SECRETARY of State Karen Bradley supports the extension of "equal rights on marriage and abortion" to Northern Ireland and has begun work to put legislation in place that reflects the votes by MPs earlier this week.

The Northern Ireland Office (NIO) has confirmed that it will begin drafting the secondary legislation that will liberalise abortion law and legalise same sex marriage in the region if Stormont is not restored.

The amendments from Labour MPs Conor McGinn and Stella Creasy to the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill, which received resounding backing from MPs on Tuesday, compel the British government to change the law if devolution in place by October 21.

The NIO said Mrs Bradley, who abstained from the Westminster votes, supported extending equal marriage and greater access to abortion to the north.

"As these are devolved issues in Northern Ireland she hoped that a locally-elected assembly would take these forward on behalf of the people of Northern Ireland," a spokesman said.

"There is still time for the parties to come to an agreement and introduce it themselves."

The spokesman said that the "will of the House of Commons is clear" and that work had begun to "ensure the detail is right, so that we have robust and enduring laws that work for the people of Northern Ireland".

The statement came after Under Secretary of State Lord Ian Duncan told the House of Lords that the amendments were flawed and would not work,

Speaking at Westminster on Wednesday, he said the legislation would deal with "sensitive issues" and that there needed to be "careful consideration given to both the policy detail and their implementation".

"Crucially, the amendments as drafted do not function properly and so do not enable the government to deliver on the instruction of parliament," he said.

The north's Attorney General John Larkin also flagged up potential problems arising from the abortion amendment's wording.

"The Cedaw (Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women) report to which clause 10 refers is, plainly, not drafted clearly or even consistently with important human rights texts," he told the News Letter .

“Any binding interpretation of what the words in clause 10 actually mean, however, must await the form in which those words are contained, if they are contained, in an act of parliament."

Meanwhile, Sinn Féin seems to be alone among Stormont's man parties in explicitly backing changes to abortion law.

A Sinn Féin spokesman said the party advocated the "introduction of appropriate, modern and compassionate healthcare services across the island".

However, Alliance, the SDLP and Ulster Unionists were non-committal, simply saying abortion was an issue of conscience.

The DUP has said any attempt to change the law is a "breach of the devolution settlement".

"The government should respect the right of the assembly to legislate on abortion. Only a restored assembly can properly consider these issues," a spokesman said.

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