Northern Ireland parties divided over Westminster direction on abortion services

T

he DUP has said that a Westminster direction that Stormont must set up full abortion services in Northern Ireland has “undermined” devolution.

But Sinn Fein, the Alliance Party and Green Party have welcomed the move by the Secretary of State Brandon Lewis with deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill stating that a “blockage” of women’s rights by the DUP had now been overcome.

Northern Ireland’s abortion laws were liberalised in 2019 following legislation passed by Westminster, but the full services have not yet been centrally commissioned due to disagreements between the Executive parties.

Mr Lewis has now used new powers to direct ministers in Belfast to take the steps necessary to roll out abortion services across the region.

MP Carla Lockhart Carla Lockhart at an anti-abortion demonstration (Dominic Lipinski/PA) / PA Archive

Carla Lockhart, an MP for the anti-abortion DUP, said the issue was one that local politicians should have been allowed to find consensus on.

“The Government’s insistence on interfering on devolved issues undermines the institutions. Indeed, cynically, some local parties know that by failing to engage constructively to find that local agreement, that the Government will deliver their objectives by March 2022 at the latest,” she said.

“What incentive have they now to give any regard to the pro-life views held by hundreds of thousands of people in Northern Ireland?”

She added: “What we have in this statement from the Secretary of State is a further example of a government acting with no respect to the local electorate and locally elected politicians. The DUP stand ready to find a locally agreed way forward.”

Finally women are going to get access to much needed, modern compassionate healthcare. Women here in the north have been failed for far too long

Ms O’Neill said: “Finally women are going to get access to much-needed, modern, compassionate healthcare. Women here in the north have been failed for far too long.

“I think it’s regrettable that it has to come about this way, because of the blocking of legislation by the DUP and the failure of the Health Department to bring forward appropriate services for women.

“The British Government have a responsibility to deliver rights along with the Irish Government, so I think it is important that they have taken this step and I very much welcome the fact that women will get that access to healthcare.

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