Boris Johnson (left) and Jeremy Hunt have insisted that the call to roll back a ban on abortion and same sex marriage is down to the Northern Ireland government | Picture: Wikimedia Commons
The two Tory contenders to be Britain’s next prime minister said earlier this week (2 July) that the same sex marriage and abortion bans in Northern Ireland will remain in place regardless of who wins.
Both Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt said that only the Northern Ireland Assembly – the country’s devolved legislature – can roll back the bans.
However, this was said despite the assembly being suspended for the past two-and-a-half years.
Speaking in Belfast to a hustings of Conservative members – the crucial deciders of who succeeded in the leadership race – the pair of politicians clarified the positions on same sex marriage.
‘This is for the people of Northern Ireland and their politicians,’ Johnson said, according to The Independent.
While Hunt said he backed liberalization ‘in both of those areas.’
However, he then added: ‘This is a devolved matter and I think the best way to resolve this is to get the assembly back up and running.’
Moreover, the PM hopefuls also said this about Northern Ireland’s position on abortion. Which, too, the country has banned.
‘Politics over the lives of women’
‘It’s disappointing but unsurprising that, once again, people in power are choosing politics over the lives of women who need an abortion,’ said Mara Clarke, founder of London-based charity, Abortion Support Network.
‘The abortion law in Northern Ireland is older than the light bulb. It’s disgraceful that the leader of any political party thinks it’s acceptable to perpetuate the inequality that still exists there.’
But support for both abortion and same sex marriage runs high in the country.
A 2019 poll conducted by YouGov revealed that 70% of UK residents agreed that same-sex marriage should be legalised in Northern Ireland (up from 65% in 2018), including 55% of those living in Northern Ireland.
‘This is a devolved matter’
After lesbian journalist Lyra McKee was shot in Londonderry, her partner pleaded to the UK prime minister to bring about marriage equality.
But the foreign secretary Hunt replied: ‘I think the best way to resolve this is to get the assembly back up and running and to establish a consensus in the province so that we can go forward.’
While the former foreign secretary Johnson called for lawmakers to resume the assembly so lawmakers can decide for themselves.
‘In other words at Stormont.’
‘An affront to human rights’
Gavin Boyd, policy manager of The Rainbow Project, condemned the PM contenders. Adding to the chorus of disappointment.
‘It is very disappointing to hear this from the two people who are campaigning to be the next Prime Minister of the United Kingdom,’ he told Gay Star News.
‘The UK Parliament is sovereign and absolutely has the power and authority to legislate for marriage equality in Northern Ireland and the failure to do so is an affront to human rights and a deliberate insult to LGBT people.
‘The ban on marriage equality in Northern Ireland doesn’t just impact on people who live here but anyone who travels here. As long as an illogical patchwork of marriage laws exists, then the UK does not truly have marriage equality.
‘It is simply not good enough for those wanting to hold the highest office in the country to pretend that this is not in their power to fix and by refusing to end the ban on marriage equality in Northern Ireland, they are upholding it.’
So, what suspended the Northern Ireland Assembly?
It all started with a resignation that plunged the country into political uncertainty.
Deputy first minister Martin McGuinnes abruptly stepped-own in January 2017, throwing the delicate governing coalition of Unionists and Nationalists into turmoil.
The vacuum of power in Stormont – the Parliament building that overlooks the hills in Belfast – that followed scarred the country.
After fresh elections in March 2017, the largest parties DUP and Sinn Féin attempted to reach a deal. They did not.
As a result, with a backdrop of the DUP partnering with the Conservative Party in the 2017 elections and Brexit, the country had has no functioning government. Effectively ran by civil servants.
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