Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill has hit out at unionists and the DUP for “trying to block change” on the issue of abortion.
In 2019 British MPs voted to decriminalise abortion in Northern Ireland and the ban was effectively lifted in March 2020.
Stormont’s Department of Health was given responsibility for the provision of abortion services but Ms O’Neill said the province’s Health Minister, Robin Swann of the UUP, was obstructing the issue:
“Firstly, let’s remember that we don’t have [abortion] services in the north at this time because again, common thread here, unionism is blocking these laws and the services being commissioned… It’s now nearly more than a year since the law was changed to legalise services in the north but the unionist minister [Robin Swann] has refused to bring that into being so women are still being denied access to care.”
Mr Swann has previously said the issue of abortion relates to more than one department - and so requires Executive approval to proceed.
On 14th October a High Court judged ruled that Northern Ireland's Secretary of State Brandon Lewis was failing in his legal duty to provide women in the province with abortion services "expeditiously."
Ms O’Neill told On The Record With Gavan Reilly that she was pushing for change within Stormont, but ultimately expected Westminster would have to step in again and force the issue:
“In every Executive meeting, I can assure you, I am the joining head of the Executive, that in every meeting we are pushing and pushing.”
“It was Westminster that legislated for this because of the blockage by political unionism.
“And in this case again, as recently as this week, I have had correspondence from the Secretary of State [for Northern Ireland] to say that if the blockage continues and if the Ulster Unionist minister who is responsible for Health [Robin Swann] does not commission the services then they’ll get on and do it.”
Votes in Stormont
When asked about why Sinn Féin MLAs have previously abstained on Assembly motions that would have curtailed access to abortion services, Ms O’Neill said the party’s position was the same as other parties in the Oireachtas and it aimed to bring Northern Ireland’s laws into line with those of the Republic.
Main image: Deputy First Minister and Sinn Féin Vice President Michelle O'Neill. Picture by: Liam McBurney/PA Wire/PA Images