The fight for marriage equality in Northern Ireland should focus on Theresa May and her government due to the DUP’s hardline “ideological” stance and a still-collapsed Northern Ireland Assembly, a landmark conference heard last week.
Labour MP Conor McGinn and Sinn Féin MP Chris Hazzard said that the power to introduce legislation is firmly in the hands of the Tory party who, despite being propped up by the socially conservative DUP party, have a responsibility under the Good Friday Agreement to create an “equivalence and protection of rights across the island of Ireland”.
Attempts to loosen Northern Ireland’s restrictive abortion laws and introduce marriage equality legislation have gained momentum since the landslide referenda results in Ireland – both for marriage equality and abortion reform.
These results, critics say, leave the region isolated, with the UN raising concerns about human rights issues.
The ‘LGBT Equality and Ireland: Past and Present’ conference, organised by charity Irish in Britain and the London Irish LGBT Network, heard calls for Theresa May’s government to be pressured into introducing legislation in the place of a Northern Ireland Assembly.
McGinn said that the DUP leadership’s uncompromising views on same-sex marriage stem from “deep-seated prejudice” and that changing their minds would prove “almost impossible”.
Hazzard, an MP for South Down, told the conference that the pact between Arlene Foster’s party and the Tory party is the “greatest obstacle to equality” in Northern Ireland.
“The intolerance, disrespect and lack of integrity displayed by the DUP have wrecked the devolved Assembly in Belfast. The DUP wreckers are now focused on turning the clock back in Britain,” he said.
Last month the House of Commons voted 207 to 117 in favour of forcing Karen Bradley, the Northern Ireland Secretary, into responding to the calls for marriage equality and abortion reform in Northern Ireland.
McGinn and his colleague Stella Creasy and Conor McGinn drew up the amendments to the initial private members Northern Ireland bill which was blocked upon its first vote.
The new law will oblige the Secretary of State to issue new guidance to senior civil servants in the region and to report quarterly to parliament – which will increase pressure on the government to allow for a change in legislation.
Earlier this year, Patrick Corrigan, Amnesty International’s Northern Ireland Programme Director, said: “Parliament has spoken this evening and the government must listen.”
Recent polling has shown that 76 per cent of people in Northern Ireland support same-sex equal marriage, with just 18 per cent opposed. Meanwhile, 65 per cent of Northern Irish people feel abortion should be decriminalised.