What does the political situation in Northern Ireland mean for abortion?
Posted by Liam Gibson on 18 January 2017
Stormont was plunged into crisis after the resignation of Martin McGuinness as deputy first minister last week. On Monday, the Assembly collapsed- elections will now be held to elect a new executive on March 2.
Liam Gibson, SPUC's Northern Ireland development officer, gives an insight into what this means for the abortion debate.
One consequence of the collapse of Northern Ireland's power-sharing government is that all business in the Assembly has come to an immediate halt. While the political crisis continues there is no prospect of the Province's abortion laws being amended. As Michelle O'Neill, the health minister, has said, there is no executive in place to consider the proposals made by the fatal foetal abnormality working group. The collapse of the Assembly also means that the private member’s bill brought by Alliance Party MLA David Ford, attempting to introduce abortion for babies with life limiting conditions, has also fallen. Mr Ford, however, has declared his intention to resubmit his proposals at the first opportunity.
Dangers of direct rule
Yet an election is unlikely to resolve current disputes so there will probably be a return to direct rule from Westminster while a new settlement is sorted out. If an agreement is not found reasonably quickly then this could present new dangers for the pro-life cause. Politicians ruling from London and unaccountable to the people of Northern Ireland could prove to be more susceptible to pressure from Britain's powerful abortion lobby.
Abortion advocates already frustrated by their lack of success in the Assembly are currently waiting for the outcome of two legal cases which threaten to undermine Northern Ireland's pro-life laws. And the absence of the devolved institutions would make it more likely that judges would take decisions on matters normally dealt with by elected politicians.
Vital pro-life politicians receive a strong mandate
Sinn Féin has indicated that it wants social issues to be on the table during any new negotiation process. It is very important, therefore, that pro-life politicians receive a strong mandate from voters when they go to the polls in March.