McDonald warns Northern Ireland women 'must not be left behind' on abortion rights

The UK Supreme Court has refused to rule on Northern Ireland's abortion ban

McDonald warns Northern Ireland women 'must not be left behind' on abortion rights

Sinn Féin Deputy Leader Mary Lou McDonald speaking to the media about Northern Ireland | Image:

Sinn Féin has warned that women in the North must not be left behind when it comes to abortion rights.

It comes after the UK Supreme Court refused to rule on whether Northern Ireland’s abortion ban breached human rights laws.

The panel of judges ruled that the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission – the group behind the case – had no right to bring it forward and as such the court could not provide a ruling.

However, the court indicated that a majority of the judges believed the current law is 'disproportionate and incompatible' with the European Convention on Human Rights.

Calls for reform in Northern Ireland have gained traction in the wake of last month’s landslide ‘Yes’ vote in the Eighth Amendment Referendum.

Speaking after the ruling, Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald said it is time for change in the North.

“What was very striking in Dublin Castle was that immediately the crowd instinctively understood that you could not leave women in the North behind,” she said.

“People instinctively know that is wrong.

“A woman carrying a pregnancy with a fatal foetal anomaly, a woman pregnant as the result of sexual violence and rape is a woman in need of care and compassion.

“And really whether they live in Belfast or Dublin is merely a technicality.”

Sinn Féin's Michelle O'Neill and Mary Lou McDonald at Dublin Castle following the Eighth Amendment Referendum result

The ongoing political stalemate in the North has led to cross-party calls in the UK for British Prime Minister Theresa May to step in and instigate change in the absence of an Executive at Stormont.

However, Mrs May’s minority Government relies on the support of the Democratic Unionist Party’s 10 MPs to stay in power.

The party is firmly against any reform of the laws.

Deputy McDonald said ‘a lot of people’ need to realise times are changing.

“People who want to look the other way; who think that they can hold back the tide of change are wrong,” she said.

“We need legislation to cover and provide services for women north and south and we need that to happen in the most speedy possible fashion.”

The Taoiseach Leo Varadkar speaks at the launch of the Government’s Healthy Ireland Summer 2018 campaign in Phoenix Park, Dublin, 07-05-2018. Image: Eamonn Farrell / RollingNews

The Taoiseach meanwhile warned that the abortion issue should be “decided by the people who live in Northern Ireland.”

“Ultimately if we had an Assembly up and running that could be determined and you could have a vote in the Assembly and a decision in the Executive,” he said.

“It really emphasises more and more why we need an Assembly up and running again in Northern Ireland.

“So that we have the democratically elected politicians in Northern Ireland making decision for Northern Ireland – and not courts or Parliaments in London.”

Speaking today DUP MP Nigel Dodds said that if Westminster steps in on this issue – it would need to enforce direct rule from London in full:

“MPs need to realise that they can’t legislate in certain areas affecting Northern Ireland and then say ‘well it is OK that health, education, housing, the environment; all these other issue should just be left paralysed,’” he said.

“They can’t have it both ways.”

Sinn Féin Deputy Leader Michelle O’Neill meanwhile said the judgement is “further evidence of women being failed by the system.”

Ms O'Neill has noted that it would be her preference for the decision to be taken in Northern Ireland.

However, in the absence of a government at Stormont, she has warned "we have to find a way to deliver rights."

Downing Street has made it clear that Mrs May views the issue as one that should be dealt with once the Northern Ireland Assembly at Stormont is restored.