Writing in the Guardian, Richard Angell, LGBT officer of the Labour Irish Society and director of Progress, has an interesting suggestion
Owen Smith is right to say that if the parties of Northern Ireland cannot get their act together and restore power-sharing government then direct rule, however undesirable, must be used to make progress on LGBT and reproductive rights.
But he is wrong to say that referendums are necessary to give a mandate for change. For one, thing they are not required. Unlike in the Republic of Ireland, where these were constitutional questions, a referendum is not needed to change the law for either marriage equality or abortion. They are the preserve of legislators. Some will look to Australia. But the reason for the “consultative ballot” in Australia was a total failure of leadership, and should neither be indulged nor repeated.
As it stands in Northern Ireland, women with the resources to travel to Britain to access an abortion can do so, while those who do not must carry on with an unwanted pregnancy or pursue an unsafe and unlawful procedure. Women in Northern Ireland should not have to cross the Irish Sea to access medical care that is their right.
The DUP have made clear their demands for a single UK regulatory framework: politically, economically and financially. Perhaps we can begin with social parity. That would ensure our citizens in Northern Ireland have the same reproductive rights and LGBT rights they deserve, the same as everyone else in Britain.
Despite his own argument, he doesn’t call for the same direct changes in legislation on both issues.
Instead, we should work to build a majority in the assembly to legislate for the rights of women in Northern Ireland, impressing on the parties there that this is a human rights issue.
Which it is. It’s just not one of Sinn Féin’s ‘red lines’ for their version of a ‘rights based society’.
In fact, Richard Angell’s argument serves as a reminder that the correct place for all these discussions, and any subsequent legislation, is the Northern Ireland Assembly. As Mick mentioned in his comments to the News Letter today
Mick Fealty, editor of the Slugger O’Toole political blog, said Mrs O’Neill has a “no-compromises-on-anything pitch, [which] like previous stand offs, allows Sinn Fein to keep ‘negotiating’ until trouble has passed”.
Regarding Sinn Fein’s demands on human rights and same-sex marriage, he said “the proper place for such decisions is through the elected voice of the people of Northern Ireland, ie the Assembly.
“Nowhere in the western world are such important matters taken above the heads of the people and settled in secret negotiations behind closed doors.”
Both issues could have been resolved by amending the Assembly petition of concern mechanism – which Sinn Fein refuses to do, he added.