Shadow Secretary for Northern Ireland Tony Lloyd backs calls to reassemble the Northern Ireland Assembly

Date published: 18 October 2019

Rochdale MP Tony Lloyd, Shadow Secretary for Northern Ireland, has backed calls to reassemble Stormont, the Northern Ireland Assembly.

He said: “It has been over 1,000 days since Stormont last sat, which is disgraceful. It is a world record for any parliamentary body not working, which is shameful.

“Stormont was set up as part of the Good Friday Agreement, which brought peace to Northern Ireland.

“Ordinary things are not being done: schools need reform, the health service needs change – shocking statistics show mental health is recognisably poor. More people have committed suicide since the end of the Troubles than were killed during.

“I am bound to share the demand from people that the Assembly gets back to work. At a time when Parliament is discussing Brexit, it is all too obvious that Northern Ireland would want its voice to be heard so the simple message is for Stormont to get to it and make it work.”

Baroness Nuala O’Loan, a noted public figure in Northern Ireland, has called for Stormont to be reassembled – ahead of Monday’s change to the abortion law in the country.

She has written to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Julian Smith, to formally ask him to recall the Assembly before 21 October, writing: “We need our own legislature to deal with matters relating to Brexit, to all the numerous and urgent problems which exist in Northern Ireland, and most of all to deal with the difficulty of the situation with regard to abortion if the Assembly and Executive are not reformed. 

“This situation is unprecedented. Despite the recent publication of guidelines there is an enormous lack of clarity about the situation which will prevail between 22 October and the introduction of new regulations. 

“There are significant legal uncertainties pursuant to the publication of those guidelines, and in the absence of any legal certainty which might derive from properly articulated legislation, they give rise to great concern for the safety of mothers and their unborn babies, and about the absence of any clear statement of the legal rights and obligations of those who might be affected by the guidelines.

“The legislative and administrative lacuna which will occur on Tuesday next will mean that there will then be no specific laws regulating the conduct of individuals who, or institutions which provide abortion services in Northern Ireland between 22 October and the passing of further new law. Effectively we will be back into the situation which prevailed before 1803.”

More than 23,000 people have backed a petition started by the Baroness.

Laws on abortion and same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland will change unless devolution is restored by 21 October.

Following legislation brought in by MPs at Westminster, the changes would mean that that abortion will be decriminalised, and the government will have to put in place regulations for abortion services by next April.

Same-sex marriage will also be legalised in Northern Ireland if devolution doesn't return, the last country in the UK to do so.

Mr Lloyd added: “If Stormont sits, it has the capacity to change the law on abortion. If not, the law Westminster brought in will come into play.”

The 1967 Abortion Act - which made terminations up to 24 weeks legal in England, Wales and Scotland - was never extended to Northern Ireland.

Despite being a part of the UK, abortion is illegal in Northern Ireland in almost every circumstance, including when the pregnancy is a result of rape or incest, and when the foetus has a fatal abnormality that means it would not survive outside of the womb.

As abortion is only permitted in limited circumstances, women in Northern Ireland must travel to the UK mainland to access such care.

Conversely, access to abortion became legal in the neighbouring Republic of Ireland in January 2019, following a referendum which brought in the Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Act 2018.

There, the law allows for a termination up to 12 weeks’ gestation, when there is serious or immediate risk to the life or of serious harm to the health of a pregnant woman, or the foetus is affected by a condition which would likely lead to its death in utero or within 28 days of birth.

Prior to 2018, abortion was legal only where pregnancy presented "a real and substantial risk to the life" of the woman.

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