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Tuesday, May 29, 2018

The incoherence of Theresa May

I wanted to blog on this yesterday morning but I was so angry with Theresa May I couldn't trust myself.

As numerous press reports comment, including this one, the Prime Minister is doing everything she can to avoid addressing the huge injustice faced by women in Northern Ireland because of the provinces antiquated abortion laws.

Essentially, she does not want to upset the DUP, who have effectively got her government in their pocket. There has even been a suggestion that she wants to avoid having to make a decision by holding a referendum, presumably on the grounds that this is what happened in the south.

Now, I hate referenda. I may have mentioned it before. We have a representative democracy. We elect politicians to make decisions on important and complex matters once they have all the facts at hand. It is impossible to boil down those issues to a simple yes or no question as Brexit demonstrated.

The only reason Eire held a referendum was because it was a constitutional necessity. It was correcting the decision of a previous plebiscite that amended the Irish constitution to outlaw abortion. People in the Republic voted on a clear proposal including draft legislation, a major contrast with what faced us in June 2016. Brexiteers should take note, it is possible for people to change their mind in another referendum once they have all the facts at their disposal.

That scenario is not applicable in the North or the rest of the UK for instance. Abortion, along with equal marriage and a whole host of other issues are best dealt with through a deliberative, legislative process. That is how Eire will be taking the process forward now. It is how Theresa May should deal with abortion here as well.

The second argument being deployed by the Theresa May is that abortion is devolved to the Northern Ireland Legislative Assembly and it should be for them to make any decision. It is correct of course that when criminal justice was devolved to Northern Ireland in 2010, they also got the ability to legislate on abortion (and equal marriage). That is not a luxury available to Wales or Scotland.

The obvious flaw with this argument, of course, is that the Legislative Assembly has not sat for 18 months and, because of the DUP's intransigence is unlikely to do so in the near future. That suits the DUP of course. They can continue to rule the North by proxy through the UK Government, without the inconvenience of having to bother working with any of the other political parties in the six counties.

That means that the effective responsibility for sorting out abortion laws in Northern Ireland lies with the Houses of Parliament in Westminster. I suggest they get on with it. At the very least they should apply the 1967 Abortion Act to Northern Ireland prior to a more effective overhaul of all UK legislation on the matter.

The present situation in the six counties is a disgrace and needs to be addressed urgently. We cannot countenance any more excuses from the Prime Minister. This issue should be above party political game-playing. Will Theresa May listen? I am not holding my breath.
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