At Last: Northern Ireland to catch up

Northern Ireland is at long last to catch up with Great Britain in laws on same-sex marriage and abortion.

The move was backed in Westminster back in July – with today set as the deadline by which the devolved Northern Ireland Assembly would have to vote to block the changes. The Assembly has however not met in a long time, and so a new government would have to be formed there for such a vote to take place.  In the ensuing three months, the deadlock there has remained unbroken.

In a carefully choreographed move designed to fail, the DUP today finally – after two and a half years of refusing to allow a government to be formed in Northern Ireland – popped into the Assembly at Stormont. The other parties were invited to join in a day’s debate in the chamber including the formation of a new government.

But in a sign of what to expect from the day’s proceedings Alliance Party leader Naomi Long MEP commented beforehand, “The intention of this recall is not to block abortion law and equal marriage, but to create the illusion the DUP are trying to do so. Regardless of our individual views on abortion, Alliance believes it is not appropriate to treat a serious issue with profound consequences in such a cynical matter and we want nothing to do with such a charade”.

Forming a government at Stormont requires not just a majority of voting members (as in Westminster) but also cross-community support with parties registered as both Nationalist and Unionist taking part. Indeed in the past Alliance briefly declared itself a sectarian party to enable a government to be formed under those rules – but clearly they would not be doing that this time.  As Sinn Fein joined Alliance Party in having nothing to do with the pretence of forming a government, and the SDLP walked out of the chamber at the moment that the need for cross-community support was mentioned, the whole initiative hit the buffers inside an hour.

Speaking outside the chamber Sinn Fein leader Michelle O’Neill MLA said, “This was a day of political stunts by the DUP. It would suit them to put as much effort into making power-sharing work as they have done to deny rights.

The first same-sex marriages in the six counties may be conducted from 20th February 2020 – which has been widely noted to be the end of Valentine’s Day week.