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Sinn Féin tells UK Parliament to pass equal marriage for Northern Ireland

Nick Duffy February 22, 2018

Sinn Féin has given tentative backing to a proposal to legislate in the UK Parliament for equal marriage in Northern Ireland, after the collapse of power-sharing.

Northern Ireland is currently the only part of the UK that continues to ban same-sex marriage, due to opposition from the ultra-conservative Democratic Unionist Party.

Progress on the issue has been stalled in the region due to the collapse of Northern Ireland’s devolved power-sharing government – with the DUP walking away from talks with Irish republican party Sinn Féin this month.

Sinn Féin does not recognise the sovereignty of the UK Parliament over Northern Ireland, but the party has this week signalled that it would not stand in the way of proposals to legislate for equal marriage under direct rule from Westminster.

Sinn Féin leaders reportedly raised the issue during a meeting with UK Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn in London on Wednesday – after backbench Labour MPs said they would likely bring forward an equal marriage bill.

In a statement to PinkNews, the party’s equality spokesperson, MLA Megan Fearon, confirmed the party’s stance.

She said: “The North of Ireland is the only place in these islands, the only place in western Europe, that denies the right to marriage equality.

“That is a shameful situation and it is becoming increasingly unsustainable tor the DUP to defend, particularly as a majority of the Assembly and the wider public clearly support the introduction of marriage equality.

“Sinn Féin’s objective in the recent negotiations was to secure a pathway to the introduction of marriage equality. We would much prefer that it was done by local power-sharing institutions which are genuinely committed to a rights-based society.

“However, we are not yet at that stage due to the DUP’s decision to collapse the talks and abandon the agreement to restore the institutions.

“We made it clear to Theresa May that the collapse of the talks by the DUP cannot be an excuse for the continued denial rights to citizens in the north or the refusal to implement previous agreements.

“We updated the British Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn on the draft agreement we had reached with the DUP, and the need to secure the rights of Irish Speakers, the right to marriage equality and the right of families to coroners’ inquests, rights enjoyed by citizens everywhere else on these islands.

“While the talks process has been collapsed, standing still is not an option for the British government in particular. Citizens have rights, and agreements made, must be agreements implemented.

“In that context, there is a responsibility on both governments, under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement, to uphold equality of treatment for citizens here.

“Therefore, I welcome confirmation from the British Secretary of state that her government will allow a free vote on any proposal in Westminster to legislate for marriage equality here.

“I also welcome the fact that the Labour Party have now confirmed that they would be prepared to bring forward such a proposal.”

Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald (R) and Sinn Féin Vice-President Michelle O’Neill pose after a press conference in central London, on February 22, 2018 (Photo by DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/Getty Images)

Conor McGinn, the Northern Ireland-born Labour MP for St. Helens North, said earlier this week that he is planning to take action on the issue.

He said: “The Government can legislate for equal marriage at Westminster, and I believe circumstances are soon approaching in which it should.

Explainer: Why doesn’t Northern Ireland have equal marriage yet?

“If the Government will not commit to doing that in a reasonable timeframe, then I am prepared to take forward a Private Members’ Bill or propose amendments to an appropriate Government Bill to extend equal marriage to Northern Ireland.

“The song says ‘you can’t hurry love’ but in this case love – and equality – has waited too long already. It’s beyond time to give same-sex couples in Northern Ireland the same rights enjoyed by people in Britain and the Republic of Ireland.”


Conor McGinn

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Karen Bradley has confirmed the government would no longer block such a move – despite its political reliance on the DUP.

She said: “If this issue were to be raised in Westminster, the Government’s policy is to allow a free vote on matters of conscience such as equal marriage.”

Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Owen Smith, has also backed plans to legislate via Westminster.

Speaking in Parliament, he said: “Will the Secretary of State consider legislating to extend equal marriage rights to Northern Ireland? We believe that she should, and we will support her if she does so.

“To be clear, a Labour Government would legislate on that if Stormont could not do so.”

Labour’s Ged Killen said: “It’s not an ideal situation, but we’ve got to a point now where it has to be seriously considered.

“We have to find a way to break through this impasse that we have, and it might be a serious option to look at.

“Everyone wants to see restored devolution in Northern Ireland, but what we want to see here is a rights issue for all UK citizens.

“It’s not acceptable that people can be married elsewhere in the UK, but then they go to Northern Ireland and their marriage isn’t recognised.

“It may now have come to the time that full legislation is wise. It’s unsustainable that part of the UK doesn’t have same-sex marriage, and I don’t think it can go on in the long term.”

Labour’s Ged Killen said: “It’s not an ideal situation, but we’ve got to a point now where it has to be seriously considered.

“We have to find a way to break through this impasse that we have, and it might be a serious option to look at.

“Everyone wants to see restored devolution in Northern Ireland, but what we want to see here is a rights issue for all UK citizens.

“It’s not acceptable that people can be married elsewhere in the UK, but then they go to Northern Ireland and their marriage isn’t recognised.

“It may now have come to the time that full legislation is wise. It’s unsustainable that part of the UK doesn’t have same-sex marriage, and I don’t think it can go on in the long term.”

(Photo by DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/Getty Images)

Labour’s Lord Alli told PinkNews: “Whilst we all want to see a return of power sharing government and a vote for equal marriage in the Assembly, the Secretary of State is right to recognise the fact that the current discriminatory situation in Northern Ireland is unsustainable.

“I welcome the Goverment’s commitment to allowing a vote on equal marriage in Westminster and would ask that the Secretary of State now set a clear deadline for legislation in either the restored Assembly or UK parliament because lesbians and gays in Northern Ireland have already been waiting for equality for far too long.”

Patrick Corrigan of the Love Equality campaign for civil marriage equality said: “The outcome of the political talks has been deeply disappointing.

“Even if the parties had reached a deal on the basis of the widely reported draft, marriage equality legislation at Stormont would have been doomed to failure, given the lack of agreement on reforming the Petition of Concern. We have no confidence in the prospects of the proposed review of the Petition of Concern, given the failure of the parties to agree any reform as part of the talks themselves.

“Sadly, equal marriage appears not to have been a sufficient political priority in these talks. On the basis of the leaked deal, Northern Ireland’s LGBT community was looking at the prospect of four more years of second-class citizenship.

“That is not good enough and we demand change.

“We are calling on the UK Government to introduce legislation at the earliest opportunity to bring Northern Ireland’s laws on marriage equality into line with the rest of the UK.

“We welcome the positive tone of the Secretary of State’s answer today, that the government would allow a free vote on the issue, but it falls short of what is now required.

“In every other jurisdiction in the UK and Ireland, it has been government legislation which has ensured equality for same-sex couples. The rights of LGBT people in Northern Ireland to be treated equally should not be left to the lottery of the Private Member’s Bill process.

“The Government can fix this problem and be assured of overwhelming support across both Houses of Parliament. It should do so without further delay.”

More: equal marriage, Gay, LGBT, marriage, Northern Ireland, Northern Ireland, Sinn, Sinn Fein

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