15,000 from Northern Ireland sign open letter to object to Gov forcing abortion on the region

UPDATE: As of 19/07, over 19,000 residents of Northern Ireland have backed Baroness O’Loan’s letter

Baroness O’Loan has accused a Westminster attempt to force changes in the abortion law in Northern Ireland of “treat[ing] the people of Northern Ireland with contempt” in an open letter to the Prime Minister.

As of Monday over 15,000 people from Northern Ireland have backed Baroness O’Loan’s letter and objected to this anti-democratic move by Westminster. The letter demands that the Government take one of two options: either withdraw the Bill or add a clause to the Bill to address the democratic deficit within the Bill.

In a follow-up to her speech in the House of Lords, the letter to Theresa May, which is open for anyone from Northern Ireland to sign, draws attention to the constitutional impropriety of the fast-tracking of this controversial Bill.

This is the first time the Conservative Government have actively promoted abortion legislation and scrapped it’s neutral position on abortion.

In fact, due to the rushed process, according to Baroness O’Loan and apparently confirmed by the Government, that the abortion amendment does not function properly and cannot, for various technical, legal reasons, implement abortion into Northern Ireland.

“The clause which is currently in the bill does not work,” the baroness told the BBC’s Good Morning Ulster programme.

However, the Government has since made clear that it is working to redraft the abortion clause so that it can force abortion onto Northern Ireland.

Lord Duncan said: “I have just met [the MPs who proposed the amendments] to discuss how best to take this forward and to ensure that [the amendments] can be delivered.”

Baroness O’Loan said that the Government are trying to force this Bill through, despite the fact that “100% of MPs representing Northern Ireland voted against the abortion amendment. It was imposed by more than 300 MPs who neither consulted nor represent the Northern Irish people.”

The radical abortion amendment was only made known on Thursday (04/07), it was only selected 37 minutes before the debate began on Tuesday (09/07), and was subsequently voted on later in the afternoon. MPs were advised before the debate that the abortion amendments were not in scope, so it came as a surprise to many when the Speaker selected them for debate.

Furthermore, the Bill failed to follow ordinary Parliamentary procedure. O’Loan said:

Such significant proposals for change in the UK are normally preceded by at least a three month consultation. The views of the democratically elected representatives of the people of that part of the UK would be respected. There would be a full and proper legislative procedure which would permit proper debate about any such significant change and any such bill would follow the normal parliamentary procedures.  It would be dealt with according to convention, and having regard to all our international legal obligations.

The purpose of the Bill was to extend the period for the formation of an Executive in Northern Ireland whose Assembly is currently not sitting. Baroness O’Loan, along with a number of other critics, have said that this abortion amendment substantively alters the content of the Bill which had nothing to do with abortion.

In accusing the attempt to force abortion on the region, she reminds the Prime Minister of the threat that this legislation poses to the political balance between Westminster and Stormont, saying that the move will actually harm attempts to form an Executive in Northern Ireland.

The Bill with its radical abortion amendments undermines devolved powers of Northern Ireland who have legal control over their own abortion laws. The DUP’s Westminster leader, Nigel Dodds MP, even said the amendments would “drive a coach and horses through the principle of devolution”.

Clare McCarthy from Right To Life UK said: 

“It is disgraceful that the Government would not just allow this hijacked Bill to pass under their watch, but now they intend to introduce secondary legislation to directly introduce abortion on demand to Northern Ireland without any involvement from the people of Northern Ireland.

“This is a shocking departure from the Government’s neutral position on abortion and a departure from their firmly-held position of respecting devolution.

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Full text of Baroness O’Loan’s letter

Dear Prime Minister,

We are writing to you about the NI (Executive Functions) Bill, currently before Parliament.

Last week an amendment which seeks to change substantively the law on abortion was tabled to this Northern Ireland Bill by Members of Parliament who do not represent constituencies in Northern Ireland. This Bill had been subject to a fast-track procedure, the constitutional propriety of which has been questioned, and the use of which has most recently been discouraged in the context of Northern Ireland, except in urgent situations,  by the Constitution Committee of the House of Lords. The use of the fast-track procedure reduced even further, the  opportunity for proper scrutiny.

The amendment was then selected even though the clerks advised the Speaker that it was out of scope. Despite the fact that this devolved matter was addressed very recently by the Northern Ireland Assembly in 2016 when a clear majority of MLAs voted against changing the law in any way, this amendment was passed. This Bill has, therefore, been extended in a manifestly inappropriate way because basic constitutional procedures regarding selection of amendments were disregarded. 100% of the Northern Ireland MPs who have taken their seats at Westminster, voted against what has become Clause 9 of the bill.  The imposition of this legislation on Northern Ireland in its current form, voted for only by MPs who do not represent constituencies in Northern Ireland, would represent a massive democratic deficit. 

As Lord Duncan said in October last year when the previous Act was passed, “As someone who comes from part of the kingdom which has a fully functioning devolved Government, I stress again that these decisions must be taken by the devolved Administration in the north of Ireland. There is no point in pretending we can usurp democracy in that fashion, simply because devolution is not to our liking. Devolution must function even when it is not as we would like to see it, but rather, how it must be”.—[Official Report, 30/10/18; col. 1278.]

Regardless, then, of what one thinks about abortion it is a very big issue and the manner in which there has been an attempt to change abortion law in Northern Ireland this week treats the people of Northern Ireland with contempt, since there is this huge democratic deficit in a situation in which sensitive negotiations are ongoing. It has the capacity to undermine the delicate political calibration between Northern Ireland and Westminster and to cause significant damage to attempts to restore the Northern Ireland Assembly.  We want to see the Northern Ireland Assembly restored and functioning.   

Such significant proposals for change in the UK are normally preceded by at least a three month consultation.  The views of the democratically elected representatives of the people of that part of the UK would be respected.  There would be a full and proper legislative procedure which would permit proper debate about any such significant change and any such bill would follow the normal parliamentary procedures.  It would be dealt with according to convention, and having regard to all our international legal obligations.  

This has not happened in the current bill, and Lord Duncan has been unable to certify that it is fully compliant with European Human Rights Convention obligations.  

That was not the Government’s fault BUT the Government now has a responsibility to respond.

We note that Lord Duncan has said that he intends to re-write the deficiencies in clause 9, which is not legally capable of being implemented, but if this involved placing the power to act on any basis other than the Section 26 power agreed by Parliament, this would involve the Government breaking the Sewell Convention, part of which involved an assurance to the devolved administrations that Government would not legislate on transferred matters, such as abortion, without the consent of the devolved administration. It would also make the Government complicit in the constitutional abuses  which occurred last week in the House of Commons.

We are writing to call on you to do one of two things:

Either withdraw the Bill, which as the NI Attorney General has said is in part “unclear and inconsistent with important human rights texts,” and which is inherently contradictory. We accept that this would require the introduction of another Bill to achieve the legitimate purpose of the original NI (Executive Functions) Bill. It would then be necessary for the Bill to be handled in a way which is not inconsistent with the law, the constitution and the UK’s international obligations. 

Alternatively Government could support the amendment introduced by Baroness O’Loan, Lord Eames and Lord Hay, which seeks to address the total democratic deficit of the current bill by requiring that any legislation emanating from Clause 9 must be subject to a public consultation and only laid before Parliament if it has the support of a majority of members of the Northern Ireland Assembly.

We the under-signed cannot overstate the grave importance of this matter. 

Press release: Two-thirds of Tory Councillors do not want abortion laws imposed on Northern Ireland by Westminster

PRESS RELEASE – FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Two-thirds of Tory Councillors do not want abortion laws imposed on Northern Ireland by Westminster

A poll from ComRes released today has revealed that two-thirds of Tory councillors (67%) support abortion remaining a devolved matter for Northern Ireland and believe that it should be up to politicians in Northern Ireland to decide whether or not to change the law on abortion in Northern Ireland. 

The poll is likely an accurate proxy of voting sentiment among grassroots Conservatives. The results of the poll indicate that there is very little support from Conservative party members to impose abortion on Northern Ireland from Westminster. 

The poll also showed the highest support for respecting devolution on this issue from the devolved regions (Wales and Scotland), with 86% supporting abortion being a devolved matter for politicians in Northern Ireland to decide.

The poll comes as Theresa May’s Government faces a major backlash from across the community in Northern Ireland against the Government’s plan to redraft the abortion clause in the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill to introduce an extreme change to abortion law, likely ushering into Northern Ireland the most extreme abortion law in Europe

This signals the end of the Government’s long-standing policy of neutrality on abortion. It also appears to be a departure from the Government’s position on respecting devolution.

On Wednesday, the Government announced in the House of Lords that it had identified the current abortion clause introduced by Stella Creasy would not introduce abortion on demand to Northern Ireland. In Parliament during the debate around the original amendment however the sponsor of the amendment, Stella Creasy made it very clear that she intended the scope of the amendment to be limited. 

On Friday, it appeared the Government did not share the sponsor of the amendment’s view that the clause should be limited and were drafting their own Government secondary legislation to side-step devolution and impose abortion on demand directly on Northern Ireland.

It is possible that there would be a far higher percentage of Tory Councillors against this move if they were asked whether they would support the Conservative Government scrapping it’s neutral position on abortion and introducing Government secondary legislation to directly introduce abortion on demand to Northern Ireland without any involvement from the people of Northern Ireland. 

The Government’s decision could also pose further issues for the incoming Prime Minister who will have to deal with a deeply unpopular change in policy initiated by Theresa May’s Government.

On Monday, Northern Irish peers will bring forward a number of amendments at Committee Stage of the Northern Ireland Bill in the House of Lords designed to block attempts to change abortion law in Northern Ireland from Westminster. 

These include a motion from Northern Ireland peer Lord Morrow calling for the abortion clause to be removed from the Bill and an amendment from Baroness O’Loan requiring that the community in Northern Ireland be consulted, and a majority of MLAs must approve any legislation before it is laid before Parliament in Westminster.

The polling also reflects sentiment among the public in Northern Ireland with previous polling showing that a strong majority of women (66%) reject interference from Westminster on this sensitive issue, agreeing that this was a decision for Northern Ireland. The strongest support among age groups surveyed came from the youngest age group, 18-34 year olds, with 70% agreeing that they did not want abortion law imposed on Northern Ireland from Westminster.

The Northern Ireland Assembly has considered the issue of abortion much more recently than any parliaments in the United Kingdom. In 2016, a clear majority of the Northern Ireland Assembly, including both Unionists and Nationalists, upheld the law on abortion as it currently stands.

A spokesperson for Right To Life UK, Clare McCarthy said:

“The new polling clearly shows that the Government scrapping their long-held position of neutrality on abortion and drafting secondary legislation to impose abortion on Northern Ireland will be very unpopular among the Conservative Party membership. This shows that there is very strong support for respecting devolution and that any changes in Northern Ireland’s abortion laws should be made in Northern Ireland, not imposed by Westminster. 

“Moreover, this polling echoes previous polling of Northern Irish people, with two-thirds of women rejecting interference from Westminster, believing that this is a decision for Northern Ireland.

“It is a reminder to the Government in Westminster that abortion remains a devolved issue in Northern Ireland. They have no mandate from the people of Northern Ireland to make any changes to Northern Ireland’s laws on abortion and all laws and policy regarding that issue should be decided by the people of Northern Ireland through their elected representatives.”

ENDS