Campaigners for same-sex marriage have said the outcome of the negotiations to restore power-sharing to Northern Ireland has been “deeply disappointing”.
Sinn Féin had demanded the introduction of legislation to allow same-sex couples to get married in Northern Ireland as part of a settlement to re-enter power-sharing government, but the DUP consistently resisted such calls.
After the talks ended in failure last week, Sinn Féin claimed the two parties had reached a draft agreement aimed at salvaging devolution, which did not include a deal on same-sex marriage.
While the claims were dismissed as “Sinn Féin propaganda” by the DUP MP Nigel Dodds, details of the supposed ‘draft agreement’ were published by the journalist Eamon Mailie over the weekend.
Campaigners from the ‘Love Equality’ group say the draft agreement Sinn Féin claim to have reached is “not good enough”.
This stands in contrast to comments from Sinn Féin MP and talks negotiator Conor Murphy.
Mr Murphy had been asked, during an interview for the BBC Radio Ulster programme ‘Inside Politics’ on Friday, whether his party had “rolled over” on same-sex marriage.
He replied: “No, we didn’t, and bear in mind people who were involved in the equal marriage campaign had said publicly, on many occasions, that they didn’t want their issue to be a red line. But nonetheless, we did pursue.”
However, Patrick Corrigan of the Love Equality campaign, said yesterday: “Sadly, equal marriage appears not to have been a sufficient political priority in these talks.”
He explained: “Even if the parties had reached a deal on the basis of the widely reported draft, marriage equality legislation at Stormont would have been doomed to failure, given the lack of agreement on reforming the petition of concern.”
The petition of concern is a mechanism designed to prevent discrimination of one community over another that was introduced after the Belfast Agreement in 1998.
In November 2015, a narrow majority of MLAs backed the introduction of same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland, but the measure was blocked by the DUP through their use of a petition of concern.
A “review” of the mechanism was amongst the details of the ‘draft agreement’ Sinn Féin claimed to have struck with the DUP before talks collapsed.
Patrick Corrigan, however, said the review was unlikely to have been successful.
“We have no confidence in the prospects of the proposed review of the petition of concern, given the failure of the parties to agree any reform as part of the talks themselves,” he said.
Mr Corrigan continued: “On the basis of the leaked deal, Northern Ireland’s LGBT community was looking at the prospect of four more years of second-class citizenship.”
He added: “That is not good enough and we demand change.
“In every other jurisdiction in the UK and Ireland, it has been government legislation which has ensured equality for same-sex couples.”
The Love Equality campaigner repeated an earlier call, made by the Rainbow Project’s John O’Doherty, for the UK Government to intervene “at the earliest opportunity to bring Northern Ireland’s laws on marriage equality into line with the rest of the UK”.