The Equality Amendment does not Subvert Devolution

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Paul Jennings is a Graduate Teaching Associate and PhD Candidate at Queen Mary, University of London.

The debate currently taking place in Parliament has featured a number of DUP MP’s arguing that amendment NC7, regarding abortion and equal marriage, is contrary to devolution in Northern Ireland, and represents a power grab from Westminster.

The bill which is being debated, the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation and Exercise of Functions) Bill, as a whole represents a change in the relationship between Westminster and Stormont. It is an unpopular bill with those I know in Northern Ireland, and is viewed as not helping to actually solve the deadlock in Stormont and restore the assembly. It is a delaying mechanism to prevent the government from facing up to it’s responsibility of restarting negotiations and making the government of Northern Ireland work again. The fact that the DUP are propping up the Conservative government with a confidence and supply arrangement has an obvious impact on the situation.

However, the amendment brought by Stella Creasy and Conor McGinn is scrupulous in avoiding issues of devolution, and changing the Stormont / Westminster relationship. It relates only to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, a Westminster actor, and compels the office to issue guidance on the issues of abortion and equal marriage to senior officials in Northern Ireland. In doing so, it refrains from interfering with the mandate of ministers in Northern Ireland, and leaves politicians to get on with the job of talking to each other in order to bring the current 650 days of inertia to a close.

The bill itself is flawed, and there has not been enough time for it to be scrutinised, debated on or responded to in any detail. However, this amendment will officially bring to the attention of the civil service the judgement of the Supreme Court in the NIHRC case, and the longstanding marriage inequality in the region. Contact your MP to ask them to vote for NC7 in the House of Commons this evening. This is an important step towards bringing equality to Northern Ireland.

Use this link to tweet your MP now and tell them to vote for NC7 tonight.

Hannah Little