The might and numbers of non Northern Ireland MPs at Westminster was evident yesterday

News Letter editorial
News Letter editorial
Share this article

The votes yesterday in Westminster on Northern Ireland policy were of notable significance.

The House of Commons voted for same-sex marriage and to liberalise laws on terminations.

MPs also made significant NI-related decisions on Brexit, on the prosecution of soldiers and on other matters. The motion on abortion was less clear than that relating to gay marriage, and even the latter might not come into force if Stormont is returned by October 21.

But even so, this was an outcome that showed the might of the national Westminster parliament and the relative insignificance of Northern Ireland’s 18 MPs (and even more so the slight nature of the 11 unionist representatives in the face of a much larger number of non NI MPs).

The imbalance in scale between Great Britain and Northern Ireland MPs was starkly apparent in 1985, when the House of Commons voted by an overwhelming margin to back the Anglo Irish Agreement, despite bitter unionist opposition. Yesterday’s development could be seen either to make the resumption of Stormont more or less likely than it had been before the Westminster divisions.

The DUP now, perhaps, has less incentive to get devolution back up and running, given that it has lost out on two key social questions on which the party took a traditional stance.

But the reverse could also be so. The party could, perhaps, now think that it can agree to a return to Stormont in which two tricky questions have been taken off its hands.

In any event, the matters have not been properly resolved yet. The government appeared to lean yesterday towards support for military veterans of the Troubles on legacy prosecutions. But there is so much else that yet needs clarified, including the fact that ex RUC alone are vulnerable in the legacy plan to investigations on allegations of past misconduct.

Within three weeks, the next prime minister will be known, and it will be clearer whether policy at the top of government has meaningfully changed on Northern Ireland.