Layla Moran MP writes…From Belfast with love

I’m not an expert on Northern Irish politics. In fact, until a few weeks ago I’d never been to the province.

But when I was asked a few months ago if I would sponsor a cross-party Bill in Westminster that would introduce the right for same-sex couples in Northern Ireland to get married it was a no-brainer.

As debates rage over Brexit, the border and the backstop we hear that the Government’s confidence and supply the partners, the DUP, don’t want Northern Ireland to be treated differently to the rest of the UK.

But when it comes to LGBT+ rights Northern Ireland is years behind England, Scotland, Wales and, now, the Republic of Ireland too.

Of course, people originally from Northern Ireland who now live in my Oxford West and Abingdon constituency and across Great Britain can marry the person they love here – but if that person is someone of the same sex then when they step off the plane in Belfast their marriage isn’t recognised.

When I visited Belfast recently, I met with Amnesty International NI, representatives from the LGBT branch of the cross-community Alliance Party and with campaigners from Here NI and The Rainbow Project. We discussed the campaign for love equality for people in Northern Ireland and what MPs in Westminster could and should be doing.

For me, the biggest take-away from these meetings was the intense feeling of frustration. As they see friends and family members in the Republic of Ireland and across the water getting married and being treated as equals, progress in Northern Ireland is non-existent.

One lady I spoke with told me of her plans for her civil partnership next year. But what will be an amazing celebration of their love is tinged with the knowledge that they feel they have had to accept a civil partnership instead of a marriage.

Others told me that they had reluctantly made peace with the idea that their ageing relatives would never see them get married. It is a desperately sad situation that must be resolved.

Marriage equality would send a powerful message of acceptance of the LGBT+ community in Northern Ireland, and give hope that further progress can and will be achieved.

And contrary to the received wisdom in Westminster, the DUP don’t speak for everyone in Northern Ireland. Far from it. Sinn Fein, the SDLP, the Alliance Party, the Greens and growing numbers of representatives of the Ulster Unionist Party support the Love Equality campaign. Public opinion is also overwhelmingly in favour.

Barnardos and the Northern Ireland Children’s Commissioner recently came out for marriage equality. A large group of multinational businesses also back reform, concerned that a lack of progress on equalities issues is putting people off coming to work for their organisations in Northern Ireland.

But with no functioning Northern Ireland Assembly to pass laws, it falls to the Westminster Parliament to act.

So what is to be done?

Well yesterday, MPs amended the Government’s Northern Ireland Bill to allow for a free vote to be held in the House of Commons on delivering same-sex marriage and on abortion reform.

Then on Friday, our snappily titled Marriage (Same Sex Couples) (Northern Ireland) (No. 2) Bill comes back to the House of Commons.

But, due to arcane House of Commons procedures, in order for it to get through the next stage of the Parliamentary process and on its way to becoming law, it needs Government backing.

So please e-mail your MP and ask them to put pressure on the Prime Minister and the Government to stop pandering to the DUP and do the decent thing by supporting the Same Sex Marriage for Northern Ireland Bill on Friday.

Same-sex couples in Northern Ireland deserve nothing less and those of us in Great Britain shouldn’t rest until they have the same rights as everyone else across these islands.

* Layla Moran is the Liberal Democrat MP for Oxford West and Abingdon

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  • Layla, The right of same sex couples to marry may indeed be a no-brainier for you and I, but regrettably it does not seem to be so for the people of Northern Ireland. The issue here is whether Westminster has the moral right to take advantage of the suspension of Stormont in order to impose our will on a devolved matter. I would argue not.

  • I fully support the right of same sex couples to get married, however marriage is a settled devolved matter for Northern Ireland, so my views as someone who is not resident nor with the right to vote in Northern Ireland are rather irrelevant. It is extremely unwise for London to impose laws (no matter how much we as individuals support the said law) on Northern Ireland that fall within settled devolved areas of their legislation. It undermines devolution, and devolution underpins the peace process. That peace process is already fragile because of Brexit, so no need to add to its fragility. Sorry if people think this is abandoning LGBT+ issues in Northern Ireland, but either you support devolution and the decentralisation of power, or you don’t. And if you do, you accept that other jurisdictions will do things that we (or the centre/establishment/etc) might not agree with.

  • I fear that the weakness is that we treated to decision as a no brainer. The political situation in Northern Ireland is totally different, very dangerous, and very, very fragile. A part of the country where less than 30 years ago people were almost routinely shooting, blowing up and knee capping their opponents.

    It took huge patience, fortitude and diplomatic skills over many years to make enough progress to make the situation what the rest of the UK would consider almost normal.

    We should not rush in, assuming we have the answer, without at the very least consulting with those with a much wider understanding of the issues. It would seem in this case we didn’t.

  • There is now a majority amongst elected MLAs for a/ legalisation of same sex marriage and b/ at least some widening of abortion (eg in cases of Fatal Foetal Abnormality).
    Same sex marriage had majority support when last voted on in a much more Unionist Assembly (2011-2016 term) but was blocked by the DUP deploying the Petition of Concern.
    Some of those who voted against my proposal to allow terminations in cases of FFA (in early 2016) now support limited reform.
    While there are issues of ‘Westminster legislating in a devolved area’, the measures proposed (depending on how much abortion law is liberalised) would be in line with public opinion in Northern Ireland, majority opinion among MLAs and recent Court decisions.

  • Richard Underhill 25th Oct '18 - 1:51pm

    Yesterday’s bill on Northern Ireland was deliberately drafted to be as uncontroversial as possible. Stella Creasey’s amendment has attached abortion to the bill, which the Secretary of State deliberately excluded from this bill.
    David Steel’s private member’s bill in 1967 had the support of Labour Home Secretary Roy Jenkins who “arranged to provide copious amounts of parliamentary time” subsequent to the 1966 general election in which Labour had a large majority, including a proportion of new and enthusiastic members who stayed up for late night sittings in order to approve important reforms. David Steel has repeatedly said that the objective of the bill was to deal with the problem of back-street abortions.
    The reality is that Northern Ireland was omitted as part of the art of the possible.
    Subsequently David Alton (then Liberal Northern Ireland spokesman, now a peer) took a different view, having also obtained a high place in a private members’ ballot. Paddy Ashdown became Liberal Democrat leader and took on the job of NI spokesman. John Alderdice, a consultant psychiatrist, was the leader of the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland. He became a Liberal Democrat peer and NI spokesman.
    David Steel has supported the abolition of ancient law which applies to the UK as a whole. So does the 2018 Labour conference. A medical doctor speaking for a group of doctors expressed a dislike of the 1967 in current circumstances because of a requirement to have the support of two doctors in every individual case.
    The issue is devolved to the devolved Northern Ireland Assembly which was re-elected in 2017 and needs to meet soon.
    Stella Creasey’s amendment has given Karen Bradley an issue of great delicacy.
    The late Ian Paisley MP, MEP (father of Ian Paisley MP) co-founded a church for his specific religious views. Ian Paisley MP recently said that he “believes in miracles”. His constituents in Antrim did not require him to contest a bye-election.

  • clive englisjh 26th Oct '18 - 12:45pm

    If the DUP insist that Northern Ireland is an integral and indivisible part of the UK (in relation to Brexit) then it can not have different and lower standards of human rights. A British citizen should have the same rights wherever they are in the UK and that is a matter for the UK Parliament not Stormont.

  • @clive englisjh

    “”””A British citizen should have the same rights wherever they are in the UK and that is a matter for the UK Parliament not Stormont.””””

    I agree. However this issue is currently a settled devolved matter (it shouldn’t be, but it is). Given how the peace agreement is a complex and fragile arrangement, for which devolution is one component, revisiting devolution is not a straightforward matter, and if it is to be done, should not be done when the devolved legislative is out of action. Such a move would do enormous damage by fuelling republicanism and reopening sectarian division.

  • Peter Hirst 26th Oct '18 - 4:55pm

    Where do you draw the line, Layla? What decisions should parliament make on behalf of an autonomous country and what should be self determined. We as a democratic party should argue for where possible determination to be at the lowest level and especially these important social issues should be determined locally. You could even argue for a referendum on this and similar issues.

  • Richard Underhill 29th Mar '19 - 7:56am
    When David was elected a minister with the support of the DUP and Sinn Fein (then in coalition) I reminded him that Gladstone as Chancellor had obtained the support of those who wanted to abolish the income tax and of those who wanted to make it permanent. As Alliance leader then, and of course, anti-sectarian, he was able to perform a role where both sides of the divide distrusted each other. He did that.
    David’s comments above, and mine, have been affected by the fact that the devolved Northern Assembly has not met since it was most recently elected.
    The practice of objecting to Ten Minute Rule Bills is shameful and has caused controversy for one Conservative MP who has objected to other bills, hence the need for government support, which is affected by the priority given to Brexit legislation.
    The dentopedology of the current Northern Ireland Secretary has been tolerated by the Prime Minister, who has her own problems. She should have learned from the example of the Tsar of all the Russias taking personal control during WW1. The loss of one Foreign Secretary and two Brexit Secretaries must reflect on the person who chose them. Her admission in the Commons about the extent to which non-political civil servants can replace a democratically elected body is obviously true, but the implication of a return to Direct Rule is politically charged. Risky.
    Multiple resignations have made it difficult to find MPs of ministerial quality at Westminster. Apart from the DUP this government lacks possible coalition partners.

  • Richard Underhill 11th Sep '19 - 7:13pm

    The devolved Northern Ireland Assembly has not met since it was elected.
    The mother of Parliaments is pro-rogued, which is unlawful
    (not illegal, that is a sick bird, such as a Norwegian Blue).
    Yesterday’s tv film “The Troubles” has been delving into old files and reports that the late Ian Paisley may have financed terrorism performed by the UVF and blamed on the IRA.
    There is also footage of a young man packing explosives into a car in Derry. He became Deputy First Minister.

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