Efforts to bring abortion to North ‘insidious,’ says Foster

DUP leader says renewed effort to bring in same sex marriage likely to succeed

Arlene Foster says Simon Coveney is ‘obviously is setting out his stall so that he can look tough to our new prime minister’. Photograph: Reuters

Arlene Foster says Simon Coveney is ‘obviously is setting out his stall so that he can look tough to our new prime minister’. Photograph: Reuters

 

Efforts to bring in abortion legislation through the Northern Ireland Bill currently making its way through Westminster were “insidious”, the DUP leader Arlene Foster said on Sunday.

Under the Bill, same sex marriage and a more liberal abortion regime would be introduced to Northern Ireland unless the Northern Executive and Assembly, which has been suspended for more than two-and-a-half years, was restored by October 21st this year.

Ms Foster said the most “insidious” clause in the Northern Ireland Bill referred to abortion. She said that the issue should remain devolved and that she did not believe a majority of people in Northern Ireland would support the change.

“I don’t believe there is any support at all to go to a situation where you would have abortion up to 28 weeks. There is no way that would pass through the Assembly in Northern Ireland,” she told BBC Northern Ireland’s Sunday Politics programme.

And while Sinn Féin supports liberalising abortion law, she said she had spoken to Sinn Féin Northern leader Michelle O’Neill who told her the party did not support abortion up to 28 weeks. “Therefore there is a need to deal with that matter and to get a distinctive Northern Ireland voice to deal with what the people here want in relation to their abortion laws,” she said.

Ms Foster suggested that a renewed effort to bring in same sex marriage through a restored Assembly was likely to succeed, notwithstanding that the DUP’s 28 members were likely to vote against such legislation.

A total of 30 Assembly members are required to support a petition of concern which would be necessary to block such a change in the law. “There are not the numbers there for a petition of concern. So, if the Assembly wishes it to go ahead, it will go ahead,” said Ms Foster.

“What I am more concerned about is the fact that we need to put protections in place for our churches and for those of us who believe marriage is between a man and a woman. So, therefore we need to deal with that locally to make sure the appropriate protections are in place,” she added.

On abortion and same sex marriage she said, “The best way to deal with this is to get devolution back up and running again so that the people of Northern Ireland can have their own unique voice heard in devolution.”

“Serious negotiations” would continue this week to try to get Stormont restored, she added. “I am very much committed to powersharing, I am very much committed to the Stormont institutions. I very much believe that people here in Northern Ireland want their own government to give them a distinctive voice. That certainly is what I am committed to doing and I hope that Michelle O’Neill and Sinn Féin are committed to doing that as well.”

Ms Foster said that under the next British prime minister, the DUP’s confidence and supply agreement with the Conservative party would continue whereby the party’s 10 MPs would vote to keep the Tories in government.

She said she was disappointed but not entirely surprised by comments on Sunday by the Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney reiterating support for the backstop. “He obviously is setting out his stall so that he can look tough to our new prime minister. But the reality is that the backstop has to be dealt with,” she said.

Ms Foster said the DUP wanted to exit the European Union with a deal. “I hope that Simon Coveney and indeed Leo Varadkar will want to get a deal as well because of course whilst it will have an impact on Northern Ireland, if we don’t have a deal it will certainly have an impact on the Republic of Ireland.

“I regret that; I want to make sure that we get a deal that works for Northern Ireland, for the Republic of Ireland, and for the whole of the United Kingdom and I would have hoped that politicians in the Republic of Ireland would have wanted to have done that as well.”

Ms Foster declined to say specifically whether she would support Boris Johnson as prime minister even if that meant a no-deal Brexit. “It’s a long way to October 31st and what we will be working to do is to get a deal that will be good for Northern Ireland. What is on the table at the moment - the withdrawal agreement - is bad for Northern Ireland, is bad for the union, and is not something we could support. Therefore we are looking to change that and to make sure that we get a deal that works for everybody.”