2nd June 2018
Women applaud the outcome of the Irish referendum vote
The vote in the Republic of Ireland last week, to repeal the clause in the constitution which denies women abortion rights, may mark the loosening of a thread which has tied Northern Ireland to the so called United Kingdom for too long. The Irish vote has thrown into stark relief a number of contradictions in the position of the partition statelet and its disproportionate influence on the wider politics of the UK.
That is perhaps unfair to the huge numbers of the population in the North who have no truck with the protestant gangsterism of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and would, quite rightly, object to being tarred with that brush.
While the DUP are, on the one hand, in the position of not being able to participate in the governance of Northern Ireland, largely due to their own corrupt political practices, they remain the tail that wags the Tory dog in Westminster, due to the reliance of Theresa May upon their votes to ensure a majority in the House of Commons.
Once the government of the Republic of Ireland enacts the appropriate legislation, women in that country will be able to legally access abortion. Their sisters in Northern Ireland will not, in spite of it being part of the UK and, in the opinion of the DUP, wishing to remain so. In Northern Ireland women are granted access to a termination if the mother’s life is at risk or there is serious risk to her mental and physical health. Conception as a result of rape or incest is not however grounds for a termination.
Deference to local sensitivities has always been a part of the devolution package. However, when those local sensitivities represent a direct breach of human rights, imposed by one section of the community upon another, they should be over ruled.
It is probable that many Protestants will abhor the anti-abortion stance of the DUP just as many Catholics will no doubt take the papal dollar and fail to acknowledge a woman’s right to choose. That should at the very least be tested in a referendum as it was in the Republic where, in spite of all of the predictions of a close outcome, a 2:1 majority came out in favour of a clear pro human rights position.
A decisive government would enact legislation to bring the statelet in line with the rest of the UK anyway but decisive is not an adjective readily associated with the May government. To be fair, being decisive is difficult when being held hostage, especially when it is the DUP who have their fingers on the trigger. To shoot first and ask questions later is a position they and their paramilitary cohorts will have been familiar with over the years.
While the reactionary clique around the likes of Jacob Rees-Mogg continue to hold out against abortion under any circumstances, May is under considerable pressure from within her own party to address the anomalous position in Northern Ireland. The current Cabinet minister responsible for women and equalities, Penny Mordaunt, backs reform as do former holders of the women and equalities role such as Amber Rudd, Justine Greening, Nicky Morgan and Maria Miller. This is hardly a roll call of the most progressive women in Parliament, which underlines further how isolated May’s position has become.
There is growing pressure within the Labour Party to back the amendment, tabled by Stella Creasy, to the domestic violence bill, to extend the 1967 Abortion Act to Northern Ireland.
Dawn Butler, the shadow minister for women and equalities, has called on the government to support legislation to extend abortion rights to Northern Ireland.
She called it an “injustice” that women in Northern Ireland are “having to travel to mainland UK” to access an abortion.
“Labour’s manifesto commits to working with the Northern Ireland Assembly to bring about these changes and we want to see the Assembly reconvened to make such important decisions, but nearly eighteen months on, women in Northern Ireland should not have to suffer in its absence,” Ms Butler said.
The position of the DUP as a backward looking reactionary force in the politics of Northern Ireland has never been in doubt. The events of the past week have simply confirmed that reality. What is even clearer than it was before is the stranglehold which such an unrepresentative minority exercise over the UK government.
Northern Ireland should not be a part of the UK, it should be part of the Republic of Ireland. There should be no DUP representatives in the House of Commons to exercise any influence over UK politics. The case for a united Ireland has always been a strong one. If it were possible, the events of the past week have only made it stronger.