Baroness Paisley has appealed for the DUP and Sinn Fein to compromise in order to see Stormont restored within less than a fortnight so that abortion will not be decriminalised.
In a letter to the News Letter, the widow of DUP founder Ian Paisley said that Northern Ireland is “only two short weeks away from a dramatic change in our law”.
Baroness Paisley, the DUP’s vice-president, said that the decision facing the parties represents “the greatest test of our political leadership” and called for “but one man or woman who will break party political cover and save the day”.
She said: “Until now, like many thousands in our Province, I have hoped and prayed that the greater good might prevail and that our elected representatives might lay down their differences, take up their mandate and return to work with the not inconsiderable aim of preventing such a wholesale turn about in the law regarding abortion.”
The only parties who can secure the return of devolution are the DUP and Sinn Fein, with the other parties powerless.
Baroness Paisley said: “The various arguments as to why they are choosing not to do so need no repetition by me. We are wearied by their scrambling to claim the higher ground.
“But right now the hard-won devolution powers which have the potential to reap a fine harvest for us, are being left to perish in the field.
“This issue, above all others, will set the trajectory of our future. By it we will become a Province known for choosing to preserve the sanctity of life – no matter the trends and preferences elsewhere – or we will be numbered with everywhere else and welcomed as having at last joined the ranks of the ‘advanced world’.”
In an indication of the level of debate within the usually ultra-disciplined DUP, last Saturday south Belfast DUP member David Cather wrote a letter to the News Letter making clear his view that the party should accept an Irish language act if that can prevent abortion.
He said: “This is an unpalatable choice, but for any reasonable person surely the issue of human life trumps the issue of a language act.”
However, South Belfast DUP MLA Christopher Stalford responded by saying: “David is one of my closest friends. I respect his right to air this opinion but I feel that it is mistaken.”
And the Orange Order’s grand secretary, the Rev Mervyn Gibson, has made clear that he does not favour accepting an Irish language act in an attempt to prevent abortion.
In a statement issued through the DUP press office on Tuesday, Upper Bann MLA Carla Lockhart gave no indication that her party was planning to agree an Irish language act to secure Stormont’s rapid return.
Instead, she repeated the party line since the collapse of Stormont that it has “no preconditions” to returning, but that it is Sinn Fein preconditions which are preventing devolution.
Ms Lockhart said: “We have only one way to prevent this coming to pass. Even at this late stage, if the Northern Ireland Executive is restored this misguided and deeply damaging legislation will fall.
“The DUP has always recognised that legislation crafted at Stormont will be better tailored to local circumstances than law made at Westminster.
“Other parties here, it appears, prefer legislation from London.
“The DUP is, and always has been, ready to go back into government right now. We have no preconditions and are ready to debate and discuss any issue on the table, regardless of how difficult or challenging it may be.”