POLITICS
27/05/2018 17:07 BST | Updated 29/05/2018 11:44 BST

DUP Tells Westminster Not To Liberalise Abortion Law In Northern Ireland

Theresa May under pressure from Tory ministers to act.

The leader of the DUP has told Westminster politicians not to try and liberalise abortion laws in Northern Ireland.

Theresa May came under pressure from senior Tories on Sunday - including members of the Cabinet - to hold a vote parliament to change the strict rules.

Abortions are currently only legal in Northern Ireland if the life or mental health of the mother is at risk.

The absence of a devolved administration in Stormont has led to calls from MPs to take direct action.

But Arlene Forster, the leader of the DUP, said the referendum result in the Republic of Ireland should have “no impact upon the law in Northern Ireland”.

“The legislation governing abortion is a devolved matter and it is for the Northern Ireland Assembly to debate and decide such issues,” she said.

“Some of those who wish to circumvent the assembly’s role may be doing so simply to avoid its decision.”

She added: “The DUP is a pro-life party and we will continue to articulate our position. It is an extremely sensitive issue and not one that should have people taking to the streets in celebration.”

PA Wire/PA Images
Yes campaigners celebrate as the results are announced in the referendum on the 8th Amendment of the Irish Constitution which prohibits abortions unless a mother's life is in danger.

The prime minister said the result in Ireland was an “impressive show of democracy”.

“I congratulate the Irish people on their decision and all of #Together4Yes on their successful campaign,” she said.

But moves to liberalise the laws in Northern Ireland are a political headache for May who relies on the DUP to keep her in office.

And Downing Street has indicated it will oppose moves to hold a vote in Westminster to change the law.

In a sign of the pressure from within May’s own party, Education Minister Anne Milton suggesting she would back liberalisation if there was a free vote.

The current situation “does feel anomalous”, she told ITV’s Peston on Sunday.

Cabinet minister Penny Mordaunt – who is responsible for the women and equalities brief in Government – said the referendum signalled a “historic and great day for Ireland” and a “hopeful one for Northern Ireland”.

“That hope must be met,” she added.

Former women and equalities minister Justine Greening said: “It’s clear it’s now time for debate and action to achieve the rights for NI women that we have as women across the rest of the UK.”

Sarah Wollaston, the Tory chairwoman of the Commons Health Select Committee, said: “I would vote to support an extension of abortion rights to all women across the whole UK.“As this is a devolved issue, if an amendment is not accepted by the Speaker, then there should at very least be a referendum in Northern Ireland on this issue.”

But Justice Minister Rory Stewart warned against the Commons intervening on the issue.He told BBC’s Sunday Politics the UK Government was acting as a “caretaker” administration in the absence of Stormont, and “that must not be used to make fundamental constitutional, ethical changes on behalf of the people in Northern Ireland”.

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

“The settled will of the people has been to afford protections to the unborn life and protect the life of the mother,” he said.

The forthcoming Domestic Abuse Bill promised by ministers could be used as a vehicle for MPs hoping to change the law in Northern Ireland.