Individual conscience may make implementing abortion reform as controversial as deciding on the principle

From the Asher’s case to abortion, individual conscience and the prerogatives of devolution greatly complicate reform beyond a straightforward appeal to human rights. Secretary of state Karen Bradley has been attacked for hypocrisy over personally supporting abortion reform while resting on her belief that the Northern Ireland public overwhelmingly support action by a Stormont that is non-sitting and in which there probably isn’t a majority in favour of reform anyway. She knows resting on constitutional propriety gets her off even … Read more

Abortion Alliances Transcending Orange and Green

One of the first things I became involved in through the Belfast Feminist Network was a short play about abortion. It attempted to tell the stories of women’s experiences accessing abortions from Northern Ireland. At the time, around 2011, it was novel. We weren’t even telling real stories, per se, but writing them based on conversations with real women. We performed it a couple of times, and then the artistic conversations moved on to telling real women’s actual stories – … Read more

Make no mistake about it, this was an important judgement for human rights in Northern Ireland

On the 7th June 2018 the Supreme Court finally delivered its judgement on Northern Ireland’s abortion laws. Activists and lawyers have been waiting for the ruling with baited breath. The decision comes a few weeks after the referendum in the Republic of Ireland to repeal the Eighth Amendment. It’s fair to say the judgement wasn’t quite what people expected. The case was, as Lady Hale said, ‘an unusually difficult case to resolve.’ In a sprawling 144 page judgement four of … Read more

Arlene Foster challenges Sinn Fein to debate abortion reform in the Assembly, claiming SF support for DUP stance

Arlene Foster says some Sinn Fein supporters have told her they will vote DUP because of her party’s position on abortion. In her first interview since Ireland’s referendum on the issue, she told Sky News a lot of people were feeling “disenfranchised” by the result. “I have had emails from Nationalists and Republicans in Northern Ireland not quite believing what is going on and saying they will be voting for the DUP because they believe we are the only party … Read more

Will Northern Ireland now look to the Republic for abortion rights – or Trump’s America?

On the face of it, you’d think it’s a non- question. It just couldn’t  happen in Northern Ireland where the direction of travel is surely  the other way. But in the States, Roe v Wade, the essential abortion law of the whole country, is under unprecedented attack from the conservative evangelical right, coalescing round the Trump coalition. Given the ideological split on the current Supreme Court, with five conservative justices to four liberal ones, President Donald Trump is one Supreme Court … Read more

Where Barra Magrory leads on dealing with the past, others will follow

No longer inhibited by  his former office, the ex- DPP Barra Magrory   isn’t alone in believing that an independent Historical Investigations Unit will produce few results for victims, survivors and families and could be more divisive than reconciling.  The best to be  hoped for is that once a renewed effort to bring cases to trial is made over five years, politicians and the public will face up to the issue of a calling halt to prosecutions, combined with a release … Read more

Avoid a battle of the narratives. The Chief Constable and Police Ombudsman appeal for agreement emerging from the proposed legacy process

Eamonn Mallie has published  transcripts of Chief Constable George Hamilton and Police Ombudsman Dr Michael Maguire addressing a gathering at Queen’s University on the approaches they hope will be  adopted on the consultation just launched on dealing with the past. I shamelessly share them with warm thanks to Eamonn. Both  men plead for responders not to adopt a polarised or polemical position right from the start and take the broader view that works for reconciliation. They also call for a … Read more

The unintended consequences of an amnesty for security forces are forensically exposed

The case for a selective amnesty for former security forces is powerfully refuted by the leading lawyer in the field Professor Kieran Mc Evoy of Queen’s in a Guardian article ( see below). Clearly someone got to Theresa May after Wednesday’s PMQs to make her change her mind. She did a similar U- turn yesterday over nominating two lay assessors to sit with the retired judge in parts of the Grenfell fire inquiry.  The same scary changeability can be seen … Read more

With all respect to concerned former soldiers, Theresa May is right to see off last minute demands for a selective amnesty

After appearing to side with her Defence Secretary on Wednesday in favouring a selective amnesty for former security forces in Northern Ireland, the Prime Minister has thought the better of it as the long delayed consultation on the Legacy Bill was launched. We are in the peculiar position of Sinn Fein’s Michelle O’Neill broadly welcoming the Bill, while the  DUP leader Arlene Foster  contemplates a legal challenge to the High Court ruling that she wasn’t entitled to refuse to submit a … Read more

Superpatriotic ministers claim bias against soldiers in new Troubles investigations

Update.. May appears to back amnesty for former security forces   At Prime Ministers Questions on Wednesday, Mrs May said the issue of a statute of limitations was “very important”. “At its heart, is the support and gratitude that we owe all those who have served in our armed forces,” she said. “The situation we have at the moment is that the only people being investigated for these issues are those in our armed forces or those who served in law enforcement … Read more

“The third lesson of this episode stretches far beyond Israel-Palestine…”

The Palestinian leader, President Mahmoud Abbas, has been widely condemned for his anti-Semitic remarks in a televised speech addressing a meeting of the Palestinian National Council on Monday 30th April.  Among his critics, as the Belfast Telegraph notes, former US Secretary of State John Kerry Former US Secretary of State John Kerry wrote on Twitter: “These comments are wrong, ugly, and unacceptable – anywhere from anyone – but particularly from anyone who says he wants to be a peacemaker. No … Read more

On the legacy deadlock, equality before the law for the security forces is not moral equivalence with the IRA

Ruth Dudley Edwards has just commended “Legacy: What To Do About The Past in Northern Ireland”, a short book by Unionist councillor and redoubtable human right campaigner Jeff  Dudgeon,  edited mainly from the contributions at the conference on legacy legislation he organised in Belfast on March 3rd. As you’d expect, Ruth shares the passionately held view that the UK’s so far unseen draft Legacy Bill is based on a flawed approach developed by the traditional justice academic lawyers who to … Read more

The Border Force row exposes differences between British and Irish citizenship that have to be settled

Leaving aside the delicious irony, I would guess that Sinn Fein are right: the attempt to limit recruitment for the UK Border Force to British passport holders is discriminatory and would be overthrown  in court.  Why should anyone have to produce a passport for a job in Northern Ireland anyway?  This has echoes of the malign Windrush problem. without feeling the  pain – yet,   Up to now only when you go abroad and need to produce a passport has the issue … Read more

A noble illusion perhaps, but unity and reconciliation are not compatible

Writing in the Irish Times, Robin Wilson has eloquently identified “a cosmopolitan vista of “unification as reconciliation” among diverse individuals on the island…. as the current Tory government disappears down the Brexit rabbit hole”. Amid fears of a renewed, Brexit-induced hard Border, a plebiscite would be a blunt-instrument (and one-sided) response – less discussion, more sectarian headcount. A more sophisticated approach, less likely to lead to highly unwelcome consequences, would be to redefine the process of north-south co-operation recognised by … Read more

A revised Belfast Agreement is needed more than nostalgia for 1998

Like Magna Carta, the Belfast/ Good Friday Agreement has acquired the status of icon of the constitution. This is not altogether in its favour.  A good deal of nonsense is talked about Magna Carta.  Back in 1215, no sooner had the ink dried on the vellum of the fair copy, than bad King John denounced it. But the idea of curbing the unbridled power of the monarch could not be unborn and it finally evolved into government by the rule … Read more

With or without a good deal on Brexit, EU oversight of an all-island economy is looking likely

Jim Allister QC is not the only one to spot the potential extension of north-south areas of cooperation under “the backstop”, the notorious Option 3 of the draft Withdrawal Agreement, as Newton Emerson reports. There’s quite a bit more from Professor Dagmar Schiek of Queen’s University and from human rights organisations north and south. With cooperation, authority follows.  It is indeed a wonder that the DUP have not reacted more strongly. They seem to be putting their faith in  a … Read more

The next big Brexit issue- the future rights of EU/Irish citizens in the North

Another big Brexit theme has been overshadowed by the border conundrum – the future of citizens’ rights in Northern Ireland.   The contention is  that many of these will go unprotected when the UK withdraws from the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and the rulings of the EU Court of Justice in Luxembourg, a key UK government aim. The Charter has greater force than the non-EU European Convention on Human Rights which is written into UK law as the Human Rights … Read more

More than the leadership of Arlene Foster it’s about what the DUP under unprecedented pressure, is for

In “Arlene Foster’s authority is ebbing away“, Newton assesses the pressure on  her  in the Irish Times.  His fascinating analysis is  the latest example of local Kremlinology  peering into the suffocatingly tight networks that dominate these little parties.   But new outside elements are at play as never before to supplement rapid change at home , like the unpredictable fallout of Brexit and pressures for social change from London and Dublin. But for these pressures to have full effect, they must … Read more

DUP Councillor refuses to engage with Pro-Choice Group

Emma Gallen is an activist for Alliance for Choice. Alliance for Choice had planned to be at several different International Women’s Day events last week. But the snow meant that many were postponed. As a result, a well meaning campaign, asking councillors at Belfast City Council to support Kate Nicholl’s motion to support the decriminalisation of abortion, gained more traction than expected. The debate at City Council was due to be on Thursday March 1st, but was also postponed due … Read more

A timely reminder that today’s unionists and other non-nationalists have as big a stake in human rights as nationalists. Further polarisation must therefore be avoided

The stale stereotype that nationalists are all for civil rights and unionists fight them tooth and nail is challenged in an open letter signed by over 100 “civic unionists, pluralists and other forms of civic leadership” published in the Irish Times.  It’s a riposte to similar letters from “ civic nationalism” appealing to the Dublin government “to defend the legal, human and language rights of Irish citizens in the North, and warning that the British government’s deal with the DUP … Read more