300,000-strong pro-life petition collected over 15 years

DUP MLA Jim Wells (holding box) and Bernie Smyth (to his left) from Precious Life in the Great Hall of Parliament Buildings, Belfast, surrounded by other DUP Assembly members and pro-life supporters.
DUP MLA Jim Wells (holding box) and Bernie Smyth (to his left) from Precious Life in the Great Hall of Parliament Buildings, Belfast, surrounded by other DUP Assembly members and pro-life supporters.

A 300,000-signature anti-abortion petition hailed as the largest ever presented to the Stormont Assembly was a collection of nine previously collated petitions, according to the Justice Minister.

Claire Sugden revealed that one of the nine petitions dated back as far as 2001.

Around 50 boxes full of signatures collected by pro-life campaign group Precious Life were delivered to the Minister last month. It came amid the ongoing debate on whether a law banning abortion in cases of fatal foetal abnormalities should be lifted in Northern Ireland.

A 45,000-strong online petition advocating a law change which was compiled by Amnesty International had been presented to the Assembly just weeks earlier.

Ms Sugden, in response to a written question tabled by Alliance MLA Paula Bradshaw, said the Amnesty petition was collected between January and October 2016 and was signed by people across the UK.

The Precious Life petition was presented to the Assembly by DUP MLA Jim Wells, who told the Assembly the petition had been signed by Northern Ireland residents. Ms Sugden said some of the addresses provided were not in Northern Ireland.

The minister stated: “What I received on November 28 consisted of 47 boxes containing multiple petitions dating from 2001/02 to 2014.

“In all, there were nine separate campaigns identified by my officials.

“There was no petition relating to termination of pregnancy for fatal foetal abnormality and no petition dated after September 2014.”

Ministers are currently considering the recommendations of a panel tasked with a review of abortion laws here.

The News Letter attempted to contact Precious Life for comment but were unable to do so at the time of going to press.