DUP: Abortion reform from Westminster a breach of devolution

Amending the government’s Domestic Abuse Bill to change the law on abortions in Northern Ireland would be a “breach of the devoluted settlement”, a DUP MP has said.

Wednesday, 30th January 2019, 5:28 pm
Updated Thursday, 7th February 2019, 7:56 pm
Stella Creasy said she was blocked from putting down an amendment to the Domestic Abuse Bill
Stella Creasy said she was blocked from putting down an amendment to the Domestic Abuse Bill

It comes after Labour MP Stella Creasy claimed the legislation had been drafted “not with the victims of domestic violence in mind but their (DUP) partners in the coalition”.

She called on the government to “put DV (domestic violence), not the DUP, first”, arguing the bill “shows the human consequences for women across the UK of the confidence and supply agreement”.

Ms Creasy had intended to put down an amendment to the draft bill, but said the scope of it had been restricted, preventing her from bringing her reforms forward.

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But DUP MP Jim Shannon said the issue of abortion reform in NI was not a matter for parliament, but was the responsibility of the Stormont administration.

And he urged people to “respect the right of the people of Northern Ireland to deal with these matters through their elected Assembly”.

The Strangford MP told the News Letter: “Everyone should be focused on the importance of tackling domestic abuse and supporting victims of domestic violence.

“It has been made clear repeatedly that the subject matter of this bill is devolved not just in Northern Ireland but in Scotland also.

“It is for the Assembly to take decisions on any change to the law on abortion in Northern Ireland. Amending this bill to change the law on abortion in Northern Ireland would breach the devolution settlement.”

Home Office minister Victoria Atkins told MPs in the Commons on Wednesday that the provisions of the draft bill “expand to England and Wales only”, in line with existing criminal law.

Her comments came after Ms Creasy asked an urgent question on the territorial extent of the draft bill and the consequences for victims of violence across the UK.

Ms Creasy called on the minister to apologise and urged the government to commit to going “back to the drawing board and coming up with a bill that can protect every victim across the UK”.

She said: “Can she stop hiding behind devolution and say sorry to Sarah Ewart for making her relive the trauma of what has happened to her all over again just because the government needs those 10 votes of the DUP to stay in power?”

The High Court in Belfast has been urged to find that Northern Ireland’s abortion laws are incompatible with human rights legislation.

Ms Ewart’s case comes after the Supreme Court ruled last year that abortion laws in the Province were in breach of human rights legislation.

Ms Atkins said the bill will “cement a statutory definition of domestic abuse that extends beyond violence to include emotional, psychological and economic abuse”.

The subject matter of the draft bill, she said, was “devolved in Scotland and Northern Ireland”, adding: “We are currently in discussion with the Scottish government and the Northern Ireland department of justice about whether they wish to extend any of the provisions of the bill to Scotland and Northern Ireland respectively.”