Northern bishops have sharply criticised nationalist politicians for their failure to stand up to prevent abortion being imposed on the region.
The move – which took effect at midnight on Monday – came after a sitting of the assembly was unable to form an executive due to the failure of both Sinn Féin and the SDLP to engage with the process.
Both parties had described the process as a stunt. However, this drew a sharp rebuke from the northern bishops in a statement.
“For the past three months, with tens of thousands of others, we have been calling on our political representatives to restore the NI Assembly, not only to address the pressing economic, social, health, welfare and educational issues of these times, but especially also to debate and halt the Abortion legislation which was rushed through the Westminster Parliament in July 2019.
“To describe as a ‘stunt’ the efforts of thousands of citizens from all sections of our community to make use of the democratic system to address an issue of such fundamental importance is deeply offensive.
“The unavoidable truth is that our locally elected representatives had the time and the power to prevent this draconian Westminster abortion legislation being introduced over the heads of local citizens but chose not to do so,” the bishops said in their statement.
They also called on Catholic voters not to let their politicians off the hook. “It is the duty of citizens to hold their elected representatives accountable for the decisions they have made,” the statement added.
The Church leader pointed out how the new situation removed all explicit protection for the unborn child up to 28 weeks of pregnancy leading to potentially one of the most liberal and unregulated abortion regimes in the world.
The bishops described it as “a tragic day for the unborn children who will now never bless our world with their unique and precious lives.
“It is also a sad day for our local democracy,” they said.
The bishops asked voters to respond to the short consultation process and “to leave their representatives in no doubt as to how they feel in these matters”.