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Dublin: 11 °C Tuesday 14 July, 2020

Foster backs call for Stormont restoration as NI abortion to be decriminalised by Westminster

The move to decriminalise abortion will only be halted if the Stormont executive is restored by 21 October.

DUP leader Arlene Foster
DUP leader Arlene Foster
Image: Liam McBurney via PA Images

DUP LEADER ARLENE Foster has backed a call by Baroness O’Loan for the restoration of the Northern Ireland Assembly.

It comes just days before abortion is due to be decriminalised in the region following legislation passed by Westminster.

The Assembly has been collapsed for over 1,000 days following the break down in relations between leading parties the DUP and Sinn Féin.

The move to decriminalise abortion will only be halted if the Stormont executive is restored by 21 October, a prospect that appears remote given the depth of the rift between the DUP and Sinn Féin.

Baroness O’Loan has written a letter to the Northern Ireland Secretary Julian Smith urging him to recall the Assembly before the change to abortion laws comes in next week.

The peer described the situation in her letter as “unprecedented”.

Foster has supported Baroness O’Loan’s call.

“Our Assembly team met on Monday and agreed to seek a recall of the Assembly,” Foster said.

“Our MLAs will return to the chamber without pre-condition. There are serious matters emanating from the NI (Executive Formation etc) Act 2019 which should be decisions made in Stormont,” she said.

We urge other MLAs who oppose the extreme liberalisation of our abortion law, to step outside any party shackles and join us in recalling the Assembly.

“It’s time to get Northern Ireland moving again.”

Sinn Féin’s leader in the Northern Ireland Assembly Michelle O’Neill responded to Foster’s comments in a tweet: “Arlene Foster’s call for the Assembly to sit before Monday is a pointless political stunt.” 

One of the issues at the heart of the 1,000 day impasse is the Sinn Féin demand for the introduction of an Irish Language Act – a law the DUP has resisted.

If abortion is decriminalised, the UK government will take on responsibility for introducing new regulations to provide greater access to abortions in the region by next April.

Anti-abortion activists have urged Stormont politicians to set aside their differences and get back into government to stop the moves to liberalise the abortion laws.

Pro-choice campaigners have welcomed the Westminster intervention to overhaul the region’s strict abortion regime.

Baroness O’Loan described her concerns around the law change in her letter to Smith.

“Despite the recent publication of guidelines there is an enormous lack of clarity about the situation which will prevail between 22 October and the introduction of new regulations,” she wrote.

“There are significant legal uncertainties pursuant to the publication of those guidelines, and in the absence of any legal certainty which might derive from properly articulated legislation, they give rise to great concern for the safety of mothers and their unborn babies, and about the absence of any clear statement of the legal rights and obligations of those who might be affected by the guidelines.”

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