Bishop condemns Westminster MPs undermining devolution
The vote by Westminster MPs aimed at imposing abortion on Northern Ireland if Stormont does not reconvene by October 21 has been described as an “inherently bad decision”, by the Bishop of Derry, Donal McKeown.
The Westminster vote is uniting Christians of all denominations in protest at the move.
Speaking to The Irish Catholic Dr McKeown said: “People, none of whom have any elected mandate in Northern Ireland, to thrust a major piece of legislation on the population of Northern Ireland I think is very, very bad for democracy.”
Bishop Donal McKeown said the North of Ireland is already struggling with a crisis of democracy as the majority of people voted against Brexit. “I think anything that further undermines the right of Northern Ireland in the devolved UK to take some responsibility for those decisions is inherently a bad decision,” he said.
Two members of the House of Lords, Baroness Nuala O’Loan and the former Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh, Lord Robin Eames sent an open letter to Prime Minister Theresa May protesting the House of Commons vote. It had received 16,800 signatures at the time of going to print.
It stated the attempt to change the abortion law “treats the people of Northern Ireland with contempt, since there is this huge democratic deficit in a situation in which sensitive negotiations are ongoing”.
The changes to the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill also include an amendment legalising same-sex marriage. The bill is designed to govern the region in the absence of a functioning Northern Ireland Assembly.
Baroness O’Loan said the abortion amendment in its current form is “not legally capable of being implemented”, however the Westminster government have said they are working to redraft the abortion clause in order for it to work in NI.
In the open letter she states the amendment “has the capacity to undermine the delicate political calibration between Northern Ireland and Westminster and to cause significant damage to attempts to restore the Northern Ireland Assembly”.
The letter asks the Prime Minister to either withdraw the bill, which is said to take effect on October 21 if Stormont isn’t functional, or support an amendment “which seeks to address the total democratic deficit of the current bill”.
A spokeswoman for pro-life group Both Lives Matter said they are “incredibly encouraged” by the number of people who signed the open letter.
She said: “Our laws and culture mean that over 100,000 people are alive here today because we did not go down the same path as England in 1967 when it comes to abortion.
“No matter what happens in the days and weeks ahead we will continue to work for the life, health and dignity of both women and their unborn children.”
Reflecting the ecumenical response Peter Lynas, Director of Evangelical Alliance NI, said that “many churches brought this issue to the attention of their congregations”.
“Abortion is one of the most sensitive political, moral and social issues of our time, especially in Northern Ireland where it is a devolved matter. We object strongly to what happened last week, both in terms of the process and the substance of the motions passed,” he added.