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Westminster warns Northern Ireland it must provide abortion services

Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis has been given powers to compel the health department to commission the services

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Northern Ireland First Minister Arlene Foster has criticised London’s intervention. Photo: Liam McBurney/PA

Northern Ireland First Minister Arlene Foster has criticised London’s intervention. Photo: Liam McBurney/PA

Northern Ireland First Minister Arlene Foster has criticised London’s intervention. Photo: Liam McBurney/PA

The British government has warned politicians in Northern Ireland to roll out abortion services there before London is forced to step in.

Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis said he hoped progress could be made on the long-delayed central commissioning of services without him having to use new powers to direct the devolved administration to act on the issue.

Mr Lewis laid regulations at Westminster yesterday that would give him the ability to compel the region’s health department to commission the services.

He will assume the power when the regulations come into force on March 31.

The UK parliament will convene in the coming weeks to consider the regulations, with an expectation they will be approved and maintained.

The British government’s intervention on delayed abortion services came ahead of a legal challenge by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission over the ongoing failure to make terminations widely available in the region.

Abortion laws in the region were liberalised by MPs at Westminster in 2019 at a time when powersharing was collapsed.

Stormont Health Minister Robin Swann insists he cannot commission services without the approval of the wider five-party coalition Executive.

However, for such an issue to secure Executive approval, both of the two main parties, the DUP and Sinn Féin, must agree to it.

The anti-abortion DUP has to date blocked Mr Swann’s proposal.

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The DUP has warned that an intervention by the Government would represent a breach of the devolution settlement for Northern Ireland and have “serious consequences” for the future operation of Stormont.

DUP leader and Stormont First Minister Arlene Foster yesterday criticised London’s intervention.

“The action that’s been taken today by the secretary of state is, from our perspective, very much overreach into a devolved space,” she said.

Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill predicted the abortion issue would “come to a head” at tomorrow’s meeting of the Stormont Executive.

“I think that one year after the legislation has been passed, I think it’s so unfair that women have been denied access to modern and compassionate healthcare services,” said the Sinn Féin vice-president.


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