Ministers accused of blocking bid to legalise same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland

Posted On: 
4th July 2019

Ministers have been accused of trying to rush an emergency law through the Commons in an attempt to block the introduction of same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland.

Campaigners for equal marriage in Northern Ireland march in Belfast.
Credit: 
PA Images

Campaigners want to amend the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill when it comes before MPs next week.

As well as same-sex marriage, they also want to include provisions paving the way for abortion to be legalised in the province, and provide compensation for the victims of historical abuse.

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But the Government has only set aside one day for the legislation to be debated, meaning there is little time for the proposed changes to be debated and voted on.

That is despite Labour calling for more time to be allocated for the bill, which is needed to give civil servants the power to continue running Northern Ireland while the Stormont Assembly remains suspended.

Labour MP Conor McGinn, who is campaigning for same-sex marriage to be legalised in Northern Ireland, made clear his frustration to Commons leader Mel Stride on Thursday.

He said: "He shouldn't underestimate the level of dissatisfaction about the Government's approach to the Northern Ireland business on Monday.

"It seems to be a pretty transparent and poor attempt to stifle debate on issues like abortion and equal marriage and restitution for victims of institutional abuse - not just to stifle debate actually, but to block any progress on them.

"Can I urge him to work through the usual channels and do the right thing. Give us the proper time to scrutinise these important issues and this important bill."

The St. Helen's North MP was backed by Commons Speaker John Bercow, who told him that "help is at hand" and that he would try to ensure the proposed amendments were debated.

He said: "Although of course there are ordinarily deadlines for the submission of amendments, it is possible for there to be manuscript amendments and the decision as to whether manuscript amendments are permissible is a decision for the chair."

Speaking to PoliticsHome, Mr McGinn said there would be "an outcry" if the amendments were not accepted.

If passed, his amendment would mean that if the Northern Ireland Executive is not restored within three months, the Government would need to bring forward its own legislation introducing same-sex marriage in the province.

The Northern Ireland Office has been approached for comment.