Historic 'Yes' vote fuels calls for reform in Northern Ireland

The British Labour Party says abortion laws in the North are “unsustainable”

Historic 'Yes' vote fuels calls for reform in Northern Ireland

Sinn Fein President Mary Lou McDonald (R) and Vice President Michelle O'Neill (L) at Dublin Castle. Image: Sinn Féin / Twitter

Yesterday’s historic ‘Yes’ vote from the Irish people has fuelled calls for similar moves to be made in the North.

This morning, the British Labour Party’s shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth warned that Northern Ireland’s abortion laws are “unsustainable” in the wake of the referendum result.

UK Prime Minister Theresa May is facing calls from across the political divide to support moves to reform the Northern law.

Mr Ashworth said women in the North “should have the same rights”  as those in the rest of Ireland.

He said Labour would back any vote in the House of Commons to bring Northern Irish abortion laws in line with England’s.

Referendum

Yesterday’s referendum saw the Irish people overwhelmingly voting in favour of repealing the Eighth Amendment – thus allowing the Oireachtas to legislate for abortion.

The ‘Yes’ vote was emphatic at 66.4% in favour.

Some 1.4 million people around the country voted in favour of repeal – a majority of 706,349 votes.

Donegal was the only constituency to return a ‘No’ vote.

Northern Ireland

The outcome has sparked calls for Mrs May to act in the absence of a devolved Government at Stormont and introduce reform.

Terminations are only allowed in Northern Ireland when there is a risk to the life or mental health of the mother.

Yesterday, Sinn Fein TD Pearce Doherty said the time to at is now.

“The impact of this vote will have an impact on opinions in the North and I think that those opinions have already been shaped by and large.

“The politicians – some politicians – are behind public opinion on this issue.”

A number of British Cabinet ministers have also voiced their support for change in the North following yesterday’s vote. 

Mrs May would have to override opposition from her Democratic Unionist Party allies in any attempt to reform the law from London.

Her minority Government relies on the support of the DUP – and the party is strongly opposed to any reform.

DUP MP Ian Paisley said Northern Ireland "should not be bullied into accepting abortion on demand."

Sinn Fein vice president Michelle O'Neill said it would be her preference for the decision to be taken in Northern Ireland, but in the absence of a government at Stormont "we have to find a way to deliver rights."

Cabinet minister Penny Mordaunt, who holds the women and equalities brief, said the result was a "historic and great day for Ireland" and a "hopeful one for Northern Ireland".

According to the Sunday Times, four former holders of the role - Amber Rudd, Justine Greening, Nicky Morgan and Maria Miller - all support Ms Mordaunt in her backing for change in Northern Ireland.

Education minister Anne Milton suggested she would support liberalisation if there was free vote, telling ITV's Peston on Sunday that the current situation "does feel anomalous."

Scores of MPs from across the House of Commons have indicated they are willing to act to rewrite the current legislation, with the forthcoming Domestic Abuse Bill a potential vehicle for efforts to change the law.

Labour MP Stella Creasy said more than 140 parliamentarians had already signalled their support for reform.

She said people in Northern Ireland had "consistently" supported change and it was "time to put them, not power in Westminster, first."

Liberal Democrats leader Vince Cable said: "The position in Northern Ireland is now highly anomalous and action will now have to be taken. Theresa May cannot remain silent on this issue.

"Since there is, effectively, direct rule from Westminster, the UK government has the responsibility. It can and should take the opportunity to deal with this issue properly."

Mrs May has not publicly commented on the Irish referendum result, but it is understood Downing Street believes any reform "is an issue for Northern Ireland."

"It shows one of the important reasons we need a functioning executive back up and running," a source said.

Additional reporting from IRN ...