THE Marie Stopes abortion clinic has laid down what appear to be a raft of conditions to MLAs before it will answer any of their questions.
The Justice Committee, which looks into matters of law and order for Stormont, asked the organisation to meet and explain how it intends to stick to the Province’s strict abortion laws.
But in a letter to the committee Tracey McNeill, Marie Stopes’ UK director, laid down a string of requests she wants met first, including confirmation that taxpayers cover the cost of their lawyers during any official inquiry.
She also said Health Minister Edwin Poots, the Chief Medical Officer, Director of Public Prosecutions and the Attorney General should to be brought before the committee before her organisation agrees.
Once these and other points are met, “we can arrange a mutually convenient time and place to meet,” it concludes.
But the letter has been condemned as “arrogant” and “impertinent”. Plus, the justice committee has the power to summon individuals anyway – on pain of up to three months in jail.
SDLP MLA Patsy McGlone, a member of the committee, said: “I would have thought first and foremost it is for the committee to determine who it calls and when they call them.
“No external body determines that. So I think they might well have started on the wrong foot there. Perhaps it’s the fact they’re new to the place.
“They should be advised that it’s for the committee to decide who it calls to give evidence.”
He added: “The position they’re in at the moment, it’s in their best interests to cooperate with a committee of the Northern Ireland assembly.”
TUV MLA Jim Allister went further, saying: “I think it’s the height of impertinence for the Marie Stopes organisation to try and tell the committee how they should conduct whatever it is they are going to conduct.
“I think they’re showing themselves very arrogant.”
SDLP MLA Alban Maginness, another committee member, said it was of “great concern” to Stormont that Marie Stopes shows how it is operating its newly-opened Great Victoria Street clinic so it keeps within Ulster’s laws.
In response, Marie Stopes said in a statement: “This is a matter between the Justice Committee and Marie Stopes International. We have made it clear that we will attend a Justice Committee meeting, and we are cooperating fully with the committee.”