Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh, Northern Ireland.

Bishops protest UK ‘hijacking’

By  Simon Caldwell, Catholic News Service
  • July 24, 2019

MANCHESTER, England -- Four Irish bishops said abortion and same-sex marriage is about to be imposed on Northern Ireland after British politicians “hijacked” a bill intended for other purposes.

In a direct appeal made July 17 to Theresa May, the outgoing UK prime minister who has since been replaced by Boris Johnson, the four Catholic bishops of Northern Ireland accused the British government of behaving recklessly by amending the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill to extend abortion and gay marriage to the province and then rushing the bill through Parliament.

In a statement, they said that “with the thousands of others” they wished to express their alarm at the “unprecedented way” in which the UK Parliament had ignored the wishes of the Northern Irish people.

“We appeal to the Prime Minister and Westminster government to move to overturn this hijacking of the ... bill for purposes for which it was never intended and to uphold the right of citizens in Northern Ireland, under the Good Friday Agreement, to decide these matters for themselves,” they said.

“The equal right to life, and love, of a mother and her unborn child is so fundamental to the common good of every society that citizens deserve the fullest participation in the democratic debate about the legislation which governs it. This also applies to decisions regarding the nature of marriage.”

The statement was signed by Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh, Northern Ireland, and Bishops Noel Treanor of Down and Connor (Belfast), Donal McKeown of Derry and Lawrence Duffy of Clogher. 

The statement was read out during a July 17 debate on the bill in the House of Lords in London, but members voted nevertheless 182-37 in favour of permitting abortions for Northern Irish women up to 28 weeks of pregnancy.

Their vote came just two weeks after the House of Commons voted overwhelmingly in favour to amend a bill before Parliament in order to hurriedly legalize both abortion and same-sex marriage in the province. The House passed the Lords’ amendments July 18.

Both changes will take effect unless legislative powers are restored to the Northern Ireland Assembly by Oct. 21. Power-sharing at Stormont between Irish Nationalist and Loyalist factions, which originated from the Good Friday Agreement of 1998, collapsed in 2017 and there are few signs it will soon be restored.

The changes are controversial because all of the UK Members of Parliament who hold seats in Northern Ireland are opposed to abortion. The Stormont assembly also rejected abortion in 2016.

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