Westminster vow over same sex-marriage in NI if Assembly not restored

A senior Cabinet minister says Westminster will “at some stage” legislate for same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland if devolution is not restored.

David Lidington was speaking on Friday during a visit to Encirc, a glass manufacturing plant in Co Fermanagh.

Same-sex marriage is one of the issues in contention between the DUP and Sinn Fein as they attempt to restore powersharing during ongoing political talks.

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Earlier this week, a group of MPs indicated they intend to table an amendment to Secretary of State Karen Bradley’s Northern Ireland (Executive Formation and Exercise of Functions) Act 2018 that would compel the UK Government to legislate for same-sex marriage in the region.

It is not yet clear whether House of Commons speaker John Bercow will accept that amendment when the legislation is debated next week.

Mrs Bradley’s legislation is intended to again push back reintroducing a law that would place a legal duty on her to call a poll.

Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley (Niall Carson/PA)
Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley (Niall Carson/PA)

An onus to call an election had been on the Northern Ireland Secretary since the collapse of powersharing, but last year she moved to temporarily remove the provision, to provide space for the parties to reach consensus.

Mrs Bradley had already extended what was a March deadline to the end of August. She is now seeking parliamentary approval to move it further back to October 21, with the option of a further extension to January 13.

Mr Lidington told PA he backs Mrs Bradley’s legislation.

“I think it’s important that we do take forward the legislation to extend the current act, to give the Secretary of State enhanced powers to give guidance to the Northern Ireland Civil Service,” the Cabinet Officer Minister said.

“That expires automatically during August when Parliament is in summer recess, my view is we shouldn’t leave a gap, that we should get on with this and Northern Ireland has an effective governance in that period of time.

“I think that would give the parties an additional few weeks to try and break through the remaining differences and re-establish the Assembly and Executive.

“That is by far the best outcome for Northern Ireland, failing that the Secretary of State has that a duty to call an election, obviously she will want to have another look at that in the autumn, but the immediate task is to get the legislation through.”

He also warned that even if the proposed amendment does not go through for Westminster to legislate for same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland, “at some stage” a further attempt will.

“On the amendments, we will have to see first of all whether the Speaker considers them to be in order, they may or may not be debated depending on his decision,” he said.

“By far the best thing would be for Stormont to decide these things but I think it’s also true that if we don’t see Stormont restored soon, then there will be further attempts at Westminster to bring these issues for decision there, and at some stage a way will be found to bring forward an amendment that is in order and where Westminster will end will taking the decision.

“It really ought to be a decision for elected politicians here accountable to the people here.”