North's AG should steer clear of politics
John Larkin’s unsolicited offer to lead an inquiry into the legality of the Marie Stopes clinic in Belfast is glaringly inappropriate, writes SUSAN McKAY
THE DEMOCRATIC Unionist Party is doing its best to protect the North’s Attorney General from himself.
So glaringly inappropriate was John Larkin’s unsolicited offer to lead an investigation into the legality of the new Marie Stopes clinic in Belfast by the Stormont justice committee that First Minister Peter Robinson rushed in: “I think John has indicated he wouldn’t be doing it in an official capacity.” There “would be a problem” if that was not the case, he warned.
Undeterred, Larkin bounced back to insist that his offer was very much in his official role as the Executive’s legal adviser. Sinn Féin, Alliance, UUP and SDLP politicians have expressed varying levels of disquiet, but the DUP is still trying.
Larkin is the kind of Catholic the party likes – he makes the extreme fundamentalist wing of the Free Presbyterians look like Pussy Riot. A source explained to the Belfast Telegraph that what the First Minister had believed was that Larkin had offered to help the committee in his official capacity, but that if he went on to question witnesses, it would be as a private individual.
We know what that would sound like. There was a rehearsal of the inquisition during a BBC Northern Ireland radio panel discussion in 2008, when Larkin, then a barrister, asked Dawn Purvis, then a politician, to “tell me the logical distinction between destroying the unborn child in the womb, seconds before birth and putting a bullet in the head of a child two days after it’s born”.
Brutal and insensitive language has never been confined in this country to social media sites frequented by teenagers.
Purvis described his comments as a disgrace, and indicative of why Northern Ireland was “the backwater that it is”.
Four years later, he is the Attorney General, and she is the chief executive of the Marie Stopes clinic, which offers abortion in the extremely limited circumstances that, as far as its legal advisers have been able to ascertain, are allowed under Northern Irish law.
The clinic’s UK director has pointed out that there can only be an investigation if it is alleged they have carried out an illegal act. The appropriate investigating authority would then be the PSNI.
Bear in mind that if an interrogation by the justice committee was allowed, Purvis would face not just Larkin – the private individual, that is, advised by his public self, the Attorney General – but a committee consisting of 10 men and just one woman.