Social progress is an important part of ensuring the Union is a more attractive proposition…

While I personally do not support abortion, I do support a woman’s right to have one if she chooses.

I think it would be wrong for anyone to think that the referendum held in Ireland to repeal the 8th amendment will not have an effect in Northern Ireland. Of course, it will in the same way the decision to allow women from Northern Ireland to access abortions on the NHS England had an effect.

I sometimes sense that some believe that an ostrich approach of sticking their head in the sand will be enough to make it all go away.  It won’t.

The reality is women are presently travelling to Great Britain from Northern Ireland to access abortions, whether on the NHS or privately, and soon – when the detail has been sorted out – women will be able to travel to the Republic of Ireland from Northern Ireland to access services there.

As a unionist, I am not content that we simply continue to allow a situation were others provide those services for women from Northern Ireland instead of ensuring this part of the United Kingdom is offering help to women in their hour of need.  It frustrates and saddens me that there is an exodus of our most vulnerable to seek help elsewhere.

I am a passionate unionist who wants Northern Ireland to remain an integral part of the United Kingdom.  I want to be a full part of that Kingdom, were couples of the same sex can express their love as fully as anyone else in society by getting married and women are trusted to choose whether an abortion is the right option for them or not and be able to receive care and support close to their own home.

I accept that a variety of life experiences and religious views may colour opinions. It’s important to respect those opinions not denegrate them.  This is something that should also apply to my opinion and many other unionists who feel removed from the conversation about social change.

Unionism is far bigger than the Democratic Unionist Party. Indeed I believe there are some elected representatives from the party who – if given a free vote – would vote in favour of abortion reform.  The same can be said for many of those who vote for the DUP.

However, the problem remains. My stance on social change is largely ignored while the views of the DUP are taken as mainstream without question.

So what of the Ulster Unionist Party? Well abortion reform, along with same-sex marriage, has been a conscience issue for many years – allowing for a free vote for members.  This has resulted in a healthy and respectful conversation within the party between MLAs, Councillors, Party Officers and the rank and file party members.

This is one of the reasons why I joined the party – because it gives you a real voice and opinion.

Given the referendum in Ireland divided opinion in homes, the workplace and politically I believe a free vote here in Northern Ireland within a functioning assembly would be the best way forward.  We also need to see reform of the Petition of Concern in any future Assembly that would allow for social progress and allow Northern Ireland to feel a full part of the United Kingdom.

As a unionist, I can see that social progress is an important part of ensuring the Union is a more attractive proposition than Irish unity.