After Sundays post asking “Will we be soon envying Socially Progressive Ireland?” a of friend of mime left this comment.
Its a question many have been asking
Northern Ireland has been without a government since January 2017, after a power-sharing deal between the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and Sinn Féin collapsed.
When the 1967 act was introduced as a Private Members Bill by David Steel, the Parliament of Northern Ireland at Stormont was still making its own laws. There was no appetite among the parliament’s members – then dominated by the Ulster Unionist Party – to follow the example set by the rest of the UK, says Fiona Bloomer of Ulster University, an expert in Northern Ireland abortion policy, who is pro-choice. “Essentially they just ignored it. There was no mention of it,” she says.
The collapse of Stormont in 1972 introduced direct rule from Westminster, but successive UK governments were reluctant to make Northern Ireland’s abortion law the same as that in England, Scotland and Wales. In 1990, Health Minister Virginia Bottomley told the Commons that to her knowledge “no Northern Ireland Member of Parliament has ever called for changes in the Northern Ireland abortion laws
Currently, a termination is only permitted in Northern Ireland if a woman’s life is at risk or if there is a risk of permanent and serious damage to her mental or physical health.
Even rape, incest and fatal foetal abnormalities are not circumstances in which an abortion can be performed legally.
Foster said the legislation governing abortion is a devolved issue and the Northern Ireland Assembly should debate such issues.
The government agreed with Mrs Foster.
Labour and a number of senior Conservative MPs have called on Theresa May to back a reform in NI’s abortion law after Friday’s historic referendum.
A government spokesperson said abortion law is a devolved matter in Northern Ireland.
“This very sensitive issue highlights the pressing need to restore a fully functioning executive,”
Northern Ireland’s abortion law is more restrictive than the rest of the UK.
Even if the Northern Ireland Assembly were to meet the legislation that evolved from the Good Friday Agreement which parties can appoint ministers to the Northern Ireland Executive means that the DUP have practically a veto on the issue.
Unlike the United Kingdom Parliament and the Oireachtas (Irish Parliament), the Assembly had no provision for an official opposition to hold governing parties to account until legislation was passed in 2016.
However because of the way it is set up even if the majority of members were to support an abortion act , it will be almost impossible to pass
- in appointing ministers to the Executive (except for the Minister of Justice), the D’Hondt method is followed so that ministerial portfolios are divided among the parties in proportion to their strength in the Assembly. This means that all parties with a significant number of seats are entitled to at least one minister;
- certain resolutions must receive “cross community support“, or the support of a minimum number of MLAs from both communities, to be passed by the Assembly. Every MLA is officially designated as either nationalist, unionist or other. The election of the Speaker, appointment of the Minister of Justice, any changes to the standing orders and the adoption of certain money bills must all occur with cross-community support. The election of the First and deputy First Ministers previously occurred by parallel consent but the positions are now filled by appointment; and
- any vote taken by the Assembly can be made dependent on cross-community support if a petition of concern is presented to the Speaker. A petition of concern may be brought by 30 or more MLAs. In such cases, a vote on proposed legislation will only pass if supported by a weighted majority (60%) of members voting, including at least 40% of each of the nationalist and unionist designations present and voting. Effectively this means that, provided enough MLAs from a given community agree, that community (or a sufficiently large party in that community) can exercise a veto over the Assembly’s decisions. The purpose is to protect each community from legislation that would favour the other community.
This effectively means the DUP even if its members are the only opposition to an Abortion Act , then if Stormont was meeting they can effectively block it.
I am loath to support Westminster interfering on devolved issues, but in this case then there is a strong argument that it should.
Nevertheless it would be preferable that changes on this issue came from within Northern Ireland itself.
Perhaps the solution is for the sort of campaign south of the boarder in which politicians in the Dail were influenced by a long running campaign of women in particular.
This became clear during the referendum campaign that it was not male politicians who were the impetus but the “Women of Ireland”,
A Pro-choice campaign could hopefully break through the sectarian barrier and force those on both sides to accept the sought of change we saw in the Republic last week.