Northern Ireland Assembly recall bid aims to stop new abortion law

A bid is under way to have the Northern Ireland Assembly recalled on Monday.

It comes as the law around abortion in the region will be liberalised by legislation passed by Westminster unless devolution is restored by October 21.

DUP leader Arlene Foster has backed the bid by anti-abortion campaign group Both Lives Matter to see the Assembly sit on Monday.

However, the attempt to stop the new law appears unlikely to succeed, with Sinn Fein indicating it will not support it.

Both Lives Matter said 31 MLAs have signed the recall petition.

Mrs Foster told the BBC the move will give MLAs the opportunity to express opposition to the law changes.

“Hopefully we will be able to debate the issue on Monday,” she said.

Dawn McAvoy from Both Lives Matter said: “Northern Ireland has been without government for over 1,000 days. Abortion is not, and never has been, the stumbling block.

“We hope that it might now be the issue that helps bring the Assembly back.

“We recognise that there is not a unified position on abortion, but there does appear to be agreement that this should be decided at Stormont rather than Westminster.

“We have done all we can to allow each MLA to stand up and say whether they support the Westminster legislation or oppose it. It is over to them now.”

Both Lives Matter says that if a new Executive can be agreed by midnight on Monday, the change to the law in Northern Ireland around abortion can be stopped.

According to Assembly rules, the first order of business on Monday would be the election of a speaker and deputy speakers which would require cross-community support.

If this happens, the next move will be to elect a new First Minister and new Deputy First Minister, which, according to party strengths, would come from the DUP and Sinn Fein respectively.

DUP leader Arlene Foster
DUP leader Arlene Foster has backed the bid (Danny Lawson/PA)

A Sinn Fein spokesman told the PA news agency that it would not participate.

“Arlene Foster’s ‘proposal’ to recall the Assembly on Monday is a pointless political stunt, which has literally no impact unless its business is to appoint an Executive who does have the power to effect legal change,” a Sinn Fein spokesman said.

“That will clearly not be the case unless resolute action to guarantee human rights and equality in law is negotiated and agreed by the DUP.”

Alliance MLA Trevor Lunn has called the bid to recall the assembly “showboating”.

“It appears those wanting to go back on Monday are only doing so to try and deny LGBTQ people and women the rights guaranteed to them in the rest of the UK.

“I previously attempted to make some modest changes to abortion law here but that was blocked by other parties,” he said.

“There is no doubt there are serious issues remaining unresolved. But serious parties would have engaged intensively on resolving them ahead of Monday, instead of grandstanding.

“Such showboating contributed to the collapse of the institutions and will do nothing to aid their return. Indeed, they may make that more difficult.

“If people are serious about restoration and good governance, they will still be serious on Tuesday.”

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