Máirtín Ó Muilleoir’s departmental marriage equality legislation is dead in the water.
In a pre-conference interview with Press Association, First Minister Arlene Foster commented on the failed appeal by Ashers Baking Company:
We have an enormous amount of sympathy for the McArthur family.
We feel they have been through an absolutely horrific time – not helped I have to say by the actions of Equality Commission. I think the Equality Commission have not covered themselves in glory in fact I think it’s quite troubling the way in which they have behaved in all of this.
I think they need to have a long hard look at how they work with faith communities in Northern Ireland and instead of accepting the metropolitan liberal elite definition of equality they need to look at what real equality is and look at the faith communities in Northern Ireland and that is something they haven’t been doing.
Shifting from the issue of cake to that of marriage, Sinn Féin equality spokesperson Sean Lynch tonight said that the Finance Minister had “brought the issue of marriage equality to the Executive today but it is disappointing that the DUP have again blocked progress”.
Instead Sinn Féin “will now bring forward a Private Members Bill on marriage equality” – which will most likely be the multi-party bill that was already being drafted in parallel with the Department of Finance’s legislation. Lynch added: “I hope it will receive support from MLAs across the political spectrum.”
However, in the same PA interview the First Minister confirmed that the DUP will put a spanner in the works of any marriage equality bill.
Mrs Foster said her willingness to use the petition of concern voting tool reflected her party’s strong determination to protect the traditional definition of marriage.
“Why would we, when we feel so strongly about the definition of marriage and the redefining of it, why would we give away that tool,” she said.
She dismissed allegations that her party was anti-gay.
They are wrong and they need to understand why we take those positions from a faith point of view and why we want to protect the definition of marriage. I could not care less what people get up to in terms of their sexuality, that’s not a matter for me, when it becomes a matter for me is when people try to redefine marriage.
Abusive communications directed towards the party leader and elected members has made the chance of a U-turn less likely she explained:
Some of the abuse that is directed at me and colleagues online is very, very vicious and I think if activists want to have a conversation about where they are coming from do they seriously think they are going to influence me by sending me abuse? No, they are not going to influence me by sending me abuse – in fact they are going to send me in the opposite direction and people need to reflect on that.
The rule in politics is not to change a policy or give concessions until it’s necessary, until there’s an electoral or political benefit. Parties suppress the urge to do something just because it’s the right thing to do. Sinn Fein’s continued pro-life stance on policy has been explained by some insiders as being a policy that will one day crumble, but the time is not yet right.
There are elected DUP representatives – albeit a minority – who disagree with these policies, and there are internal discussions about whether a three-line whip is appropriate during Assembly votes.
Given the opportunity to lurch to the right [Ed – not a lot of room left at that side of the road!] and hoover up UKIP, TUV and disgruntled UUP voters, there’s obviously not enough political capital to be gained – or deal to be done with Sinn Fein – by changing now.
However, it does look a little hypocritical to be ignoring the example of GB legislation on this matter (never mind going against the majority will of MLAs and 70% of people in NI) while following the will of GB (and again ignoring the will of NI as a whole) over Brexit.
The common thread seems to be ignoring the will of the people of NI … ultimately that’s not a great political strategy.
Alan Meban. Tweets as @alaninbelfast. Blogs about cinema and theatre over at Alan in Belfast. A freelancer who writes about, reports from, live-tweets and live-streams civic, academic and political events and conferences. He delivers social media training/coaching; produces podcasts and radio programmes; is a FactCheckNI director; a member of Ofcom’s Advisory Committee for Northern Ireland; and a member of the Corrymeela Community.