It is over two-and-a-half years since the Northern Ireland Assembly last sat. In that time, many issues have come and gone, and many more are threatening the public services in Northern Ireland through the inaction of the main parties in the North to work together and form an Executive.
Yet, today, the Assembly will meet, principally to discuss a motion,
That this Assembly agrees that the legislative position on abortion in Northern Ireland will most appropriately be determined by the Northern Ireland Assembly.NI Assembly Order Paper, 2019-10-21
This is nothing more than a motion for the Assembly to debate. If passed, it will merely show that a majority of members who turned up today voted for it. As it is not legislation, it will not prevent the coming into force of the legislation passed at Westminster in the summer, namely, the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act 2019 c. 22, sections 8, 9, 10, 11, 12. These sections come into force
on 22 October 2019, unless an Executive in Northern Ireland is formed on or before 21 October 2019 (in which case they do not come into force at all).Northern Ireland (Executive Formaton etc) Act 2019 c.22, section 13.
Since today’s sitting of the Assembly will not have the opportunity to form an Executive because at least one party that is needed to be in such a body is staying away from the meeting, the stunt being made by the DUP in asking for today’s meeting is just that – a stunt.
As Naomi Long MEP, the Leader of the Alliance Party, has said,
It is a cynical political stunt, which has no prospect of leading to the formation of an Executive, but it will increase acrimony between parties and bring the chamber further into disrepute, making an actual restoration more difficult.Naomi Long, Press Release, “Long confirms Alliance MLAs will not attend Monday’s Assembly recall“, 2019-10-20
It is clear to me that the Democratic Unionist Party wants there to be no border down the Irish Sea for economic reasons, and is opposed to Boris Johnston’s purported deal with the EU for the UK to exit that EU; however the same people in the DUP are perfectly happy for there to be a border down the Irish Sea between GB and Northern Ireland, as well as one between Ireland and Northern Ireland, on the issues of equal marriage and abortion. I fail to see how the DUP can manage to hold these two apparent contradictory stances. But then, it is the DUP, they really only know how to say “No”.
Other friends have suggested that the proper place for such discussions is the Assembly, but I argue that as there is no functioning Northern Ireland Executive, the Sovereign Parliament in the UK is the proper place for these issues to have been legislated on. I look forward to when the devolution mess is recognised to have failed and Westminster starts to take back control so that someone is making decisions where Northern Ireland’s politicians are failing.