Sunday 22 September 2019

Comment: Arlene has a point and Mary Lou has a problem

DUP leader Arlene Foster. Photo: PA
DUP leader Arlene Foster. Photo: PA

Fionnán Sheahan

'Norn Iron, you're next' read a poster in Dublin Castle as the abortion referendum results flowed in nine days ago.

Would that it were so simple. Similar sentiments were expressed three years ago when same-sex marriage was voted in.

Both these social issues remain within the gift of the devolved institutions.

Except there is no Assembly to act and the DUP's role as powerbrokers in Westminster means the British government won't be amending the law.

The DUP remains implacably opposed to abortion, with its leader Arlene Foster now claiming pro-life nationalists are saying they will vote for her to keep abortion out.

There is a certain sense to her comments - just as down south there will be a coterie of nationalist voters for whom abortion is the number one issue.

The support of Sinn Féin and SDLP for abortion rights leaves them without a home.

Bernadette Hayes and John Nagle, from the University of Aberdeen, have looked at this issue of DUP and Sinn Féin supporters' views on gay rights and abortion.

They point to polls suggesting overwhelming public support for a change in the abortion law.

However, Hayes and Nagle also conclude it goes beyond the DUP's roots in evangelical Protestantism.

"A more complete answer needs to take into account the political pragmatism of the DUP as supporters of the unionist population in relation to the peace process, in which human rights have become a 'war by other means'."

The context is not the same. North of the Border, abortions are allowed in some extreme cases; the restrictions of the Eighth Amendment do not exist.

The overwhelming passing of the referendum south of the Border will doubtless influence Sinn Féin's thinking.

The straying from the party line of TDs Peadar Toibín and Carol Nolan is likely to be replicated for Mary Lou McDonald.

The new leader will have to tread carefully to bring her entire party along.

Irish Independent

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