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28 September 2017

Northern Ireland: praying for better debate

Northern Ireland: praying for better debate

Just this week there are reports of a change of tone between the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and Sinn Féin; however, at the time of writing the prospect of a Northern Ireland executive and assembly being re-established to deliver local governance remains elusive. 

The secretary of state has warned that Northern Ireland is on a glide path to the British government stepping in. While ‘stepping in’ remains vague enough to hold off direct rule by British ministers for some time at least, options are running out. Further rounds of budgets will need to be signed off and there is only so long that key decisions can be postponed when it comes to daily life decisions around health, education and capital investment.   

It’s nearly nine months since the executive was brought down. Pressure had been building between the DUP and Sinn Féin because of the handling of revelations about the management of a renewable heating incentive (RHI) scheme. When first minister Arlene Foster made it clear she would not resign, then deputy first minister, the late Martin McGuinness, did. This triggered local elections which deepened the schism between the parties and was further compounded by a fraught general election and the political reality of the DUP’s deal with the Conservative government. 

The constitutional issue of managing the Irish/UK border would be tricky to navigate regardless of the fact that the power-sharing parties took polar opposite positions on Brexit. However this and the added instability created by the power vacuum mean that arrangements on trade and the movement of people are being debated across Europe and the UK but not in the Stormont Assembly chambers. 

In the midst of this irony of flux and stalemate I would encourage readers to pray for the ordinary citizens and civil servants who may feel powerless and frustrated. Pray too for our political leaders that they would take generous relational risks which would be met with grace to collectively steward well the power entrusted to them.     

Update on the Both Lives Matter campaign 

Both Lives Matter launched in January with a report stating that 100,000 people are alive today in Northern Ireland because the 1967 Abortion Act was not enacted there. The claim was presented on a number of billboards and 14 complainants contacted the Advertising Standards Authority alleging that the advert was “inaccurate, misleading and offensive”. 

After a five month investigation, the ASA ruled at the start of August that, "on balance the evidence indicated that there was a reasonable probability that around 100,000 people were alive today who would otherwise have been aborted had it been legal to do so.” 

So what? Why does this matter? 

This is a robust and independent verification of the estimate that 100,000 people are alive today in Northern Ireland who would otherwise have been aborted had it been legal to do so. The ruling acknowledges that law shapes culture. It’s not difficult to understand that the more available abortion is, the more normal it becomes and therefore the more it happens. This is an important and landmark figure which holds the potential to radically change the story and conversation on abortion in Northern Ireland and beyond. 

Ultimately the victory in this ruling is not about the individuals and organisations who make up Both Lives Matter, it’s about the 100,000 people who have lived, loved and contributed to our society in the past 50 years. That’s the equivalent of 100 primary school classes every year.  

Both Lives Matter was formed to tell a different story and re-humanise the conversation around abortion and pregnancy crisis. Whatever your views on abortion, when faced with eight million abortions in GB since 1967, Northern Ireland has 100,000 reasons to reflect on where we are going as a community when it comes to any change in abortion law.