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Tue, 11 August 2020

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New appointments this week in UK politics, the civil service and public affairs Member content
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By Hft

MPs back bid to allow same-sex marriage and abortion in Northern Ireland

MPs back bid to allow same-sex marriage and abortion in Northern Ireland
3 min read

MPs have backed moves to legalise same-sex marriage and abortion in Northern Ireland.

The Commons voted 383 to 73 in favour of an amendment which will force ministers to legislate for equal marriage in the provionce unless a power-sharing is restored at Stormont within three months.

Separately, MPs also backed calls for Northern Ireland's strict abortion laws to be relaxed by 332 votes to 99.

Ministers had been opposed to the changes because powers in those areas are devolved to the Northern Ireland Assembly.

But campaigners had argued that after two years of political deadlock between the DUP and Sinn Fein, it was time for Westminster to legislate and bring the province into line with the rest of the UK.

The amendments were tacked on to the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill, which gives civil servants the power to continue running the country while power-sharing talks continue.

Armagh-born Labour MP Connor McGinn, who tabled the amendement on same-sex marriage, said the Commons had the opportunity to address historical "failures" against Northern Ireland's LGBT community.

“It failed a generation of people in Northern Ireland by not decriminalising homosexuality and condemned them to discrimination, abuse and to living in fear many years after that stopped to be the case in the rest of the UK," he told MPs.

“It failed people in Northern Ireland by not extending same-sex marriage when it became the law here making Northern Ireland less valued than the rest of us."

Meanwhile, Labour MP Stella Creasy's abortion reform amendment will force ministers to lay new legislation to provide all women in Northern Ireland with access to safe, legal abortions.

Terminations up to the 24-week limit have been legal in the rest of the UK since 1967, but women seeking abortion in Northern Ireland can only have the procedure when the mother's life is deemed to be in danger from the pregnancy.

"Denying legal access to abortion doesn’t stop abortion," Ms Creasy said. "It just risks the safety of women. In the last year alone, over 1000 women travelled from Northern Ireland to England to access abortion. Others who cannot travel buy abortion pills online, risking life in prison."

But the plans drew fury from DUP Westminster leader Nigel Dodds who said the Commons vote "drives a coach and horses through the principle of devolution".

Meanwhile, North Antrim MP Ian Paisley said the three month deadline would "frustrate" talks between the Stormont parties.

“Either we do decide to direct-rule… and deal with the issues honestly, openly and transparently here or else we give a fair wind to the assembly, allow it to get up and running and allow that assembly to be responsible for the affairs that it is supposed to be responsible for," he said.

“Having this foot in both camps, saying we might legislate on this issue, or we might impact on those issues, sometimes that gives advantage to one party in Northern Ireland over the other and that’s where the process today, being driven by backbenchers, on some of these amendments is totally disgraceful and wrong.”

It comes after deputy speaker Eleanor Laing rejected an amendment by Conservative MP Dominic Grieve which sought to block the next Prime Minister from prorouging Parliament in a bid to push through a no-deal Brexit.

Mr Grieve's plan would have effectively stopped a future PM from making the controversial move by requiring ministers to come to the Commons in the build-up to the October Brexit deadline.


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