Northern Ireland can’t and won’t follow Ireland’s footsteps – the UK must act

Opinion: Don’t waste time on Northern Irish referendums on abortion or same-sex marriage. It would delay crucial human rights laws and could be ignored

The Irish referendum result over the weekend was a truly amazing moment. It shows Ireland is a united country, with both urban and rural, behind social progress and human rights.

But it was a referendum that had to happen because the Irish constitution specifically banned abortion.

Following the weekend, many are calling for Northen Ireland to do the same. But that call just does not make sense.

It would delay a change in the law, and would not be binding.

In the current policial climate it is something only the UK Westminster parliament can change.

The eighth amendment ‘Yes Vote’ has rightly put the focus on Northern Ireland
With abortion in Northern Ireland still illegal in cases of rape, fatal fetal abnormality, and incest – the result of the referendum is rightly leading to calls for our sisters north of the border to get the right to legal and safe abortion services too.

However, the devolved administration in Stormont is currently broken down. This means there is no Northern Ireland government to change the law.

Some have called for a similar referendum. But there isn’t a constitutional requirement for this as there was in the Irish Republic.

Others, including Labour MP Stella Creasy, are demanding that the Westminster government take action and vote to extend the 1967 abortion law to Northern Ireland.

Rather than spending time legislating for a referendum, Westminster should spend that time legislating for equality.

Westminster: Take the opportunity to take a landmark stance on both LGBTI and Women’s rights
In the absence of a devolved government, the Labour Party Irish Society is supporting Westminster extending the 1967 Act to Northern Ireland.

The Act made abortion legal in all of Great Britain, but not in Northern Ireland, up to 28 weeks gestation.

We firmly believe that human rights should not be won or lost on a populist vote. No group should have to appeal to another for their fundamental rights.

But, this is not just a women’s rights issue. We want to see the extension of the 1967 abortion act and equal marriage to Northern Ireland too.

Women and LGBT people in Northern Ireland have already waited too long to enjoy the same rights as their brothers and sisters across these islands. On both issues public opinion is clear. A referendum on both would be a divisive delay.

These are my human rights; I shouldn’t have to persuade a whole nation
As a lesbian and an Irish woman, I don’t think I should have to convince others of my right to abortion services any more than I should have to persuade them of my right to marry my girlfriend.

They should both be human rights.
I canvassed with Labour Party Irish Society in Dublin last week. Although it went the right way in the end, we were shouted at and called murderers by random strangers.

Referendums are divisive and damaging, as we learned to our cost in the Brexit referendum.

A referendum in Northern Ireland would not be legally binding. Therefore we would still face a long and protracted political fight over any new law.

Labour Party Irish Society is transparent that a divisive referendum would merely delay women’s rights longer. We want politicians to just get on and extend fundamental human rights to reproductive healthcare to Northern Irish women.

Since Stormont can’t and won’t do this, Westminster must.

by Deirdre Costigan
Source – Gay Star News