Jim Allister: DUP should force government to back down on gay marriage and abortion reforms

TUV leader Jim Allister
TUV leader Jim Allister
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The DUP has been urged to exert its influence to prevent the government from pushing ahead with radical social reform in Northern Ireland.

TUV leader Jim Allister said yesterday’s vote by MPs to legalise same-sex marriage and liberalise abortion laws in the Province were “a calculated attempt to bring coercion to bear on the Stormont talks.

And the challenged the DUP not to bow to “pressure” to restore devolution, and said the party was in a position to force the government to abandon the plans.

“Make no mistake, the DUP has the means to thwart this meddling by making the status quo of devolved control of these issues the cost of the new confidence and supply arrangements which require to be negotiated with the new Prime Minister,” he added.

“Will they roll over on Sinn Fein Irish Language Act demands to regain what passes for power at Stormont, or will they give legs to the principles they espouse on same-sex marriage and abortion, by making retreat by HMG on these issues the price of their ‘confidence and supply’?”

DUP MLA Jim Wells echoed these remarks and said that if the proposed reforms became law, the DUP-Tory pact would be “at an end and the government will fall”.

It is not clear at this stage if Mr Wells’ comments reflect the party’s official stance on the matter.

Ulster Unionist Party leader Robin Swann said that the absence of a functioning Executive and Assembly can no longer hold back decision making.

“Westminster has now shown that it can and will legislate for Northern Ireland, so the Secretary of State should begin taking the urgent decisions needed on behalf of Northern Ireland,” he said.

Sinn Fein MP Elisha McCallion said the issues should be dealt with by the NI Assembly, adding: “Rights delayed are rights denied and there is now a political imperative to ensure that all citizens are afforded rights and equality, regardless of where they live on these islands.”

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood MLA it had been a “watershed moment” for marriage campaigners, adding: “Today is a good day for Northern Ireland and for our LGBT+ community. After decades of discrimination, intolerance and abuse, often at the hands of the state, we have at last taken a step toward recognising the love of LGBT+ people as equal to that of anyone else.

“It is a matter of profound regret for me as an MLA and as a party leader that we haven’t yet been able to deliver marriage equality in an inclusive, power-sharing Executive. I am delighted, however, that we now have an equality backstop that will ensure the rights of LGBT+ people are delivered either here or at Westminster.”

Alliance leader Naomi Long MEP said yesterday had been “a historic day”, adding: “Our society has taken its next step towards being dragged into the 21st century.

“Alliance wanted this addressed on the floor of the Assembly rather than via Westminster, however, our priority is that it happens. Thanks to this amendment, we have moved a bit closer to the modern, diverse and welcoming Northern Ireland we all want to see.”

Director of LGBT support group the Rainbow Project John O’Doherty said he hoped the latest development would “help to end second class citizenship for LGBT+ people in Northern Ireland”.

He added: “Parliament has always had the power to legislate for marriage equality in Northern Ireland and we are glad the House of Commons has seen sense and voted to give people in Northern Ireland the same freedoms enjoyed by everyone else in these islands.”

Patrick Corrigan, Northern Ireland Director of Amnesty International said: “If devolved government returns within three months, then we will resume our campaign at Stormont. Meantime, Westminster has moved to end this injustice.

“If the Assembly is restored at some point in the future, then members there can legislate as they see fit, but with a large majority of MLAs in favour of equal marriage, we know that there will be little appetite to see this measure overturned.”