Northern Ireland has been without devolved government for over 1000 days, with Sinn Fein and DUP clashing over a number of issues resulting in a collapse of the power-sharing agreement. In the absence of an assembly an amendment was introduced in July and backed by Westminster MPs to decriminalise abortion and extend rights to same-sex marriage to Northern Ireland if devolution is not restored.
The amendment was only to become law if the Northern Ireland assembly had not been restored by 21 October. Previously abortion was only permitted in very extreme circumstances in which the woman’s life was in danger or there was risk of serious damage to their physical or mental health.
In a last ditch attempt to impede the process the DUP were joined by a few other MLAs in trying to recall the assembly. However the failure to elect a new speaker on a cross-community basis ensured that the amendment became law at midnight last night.
The last vote in Northern Ireland on same-sex marriage ended in a majority of voters in favour of the move to providing equal rights however the DUP launched a petition of concern that reversed the vote. A petition of concern requires a the approval of a majority of both nationalist and unionist members of Stormont and was essentially used as a veto in this instance.
In what can only be described as a landmark day in the history of the North, same-sex marriage and abortion rights have been simultaneously granted to the people of Northern Ireland ensuring that a country ravaged by divisive politics continues to move forward.
Photo Credit: PA