Northern Ireland: UK government promised to introduce same sex marriage, says Sinn Fein

As fresh talks got underway in Belfast, Conor Murphy MP said that Westminster would pass the legislation if power sharing failed

Ben Kelly
Tuesday 07 May 2019 19:50 BST
Westminster would vote for equal marriage for Northern Ireland says Sinn Fein's Conor Murphy

Sinn Fein​ has claimed that the UK government made it a promise to introduce same sex marriage for Northern Ireland at Westminster.

The comments emerged this morning as Sinn Fein​ and the DUP prepared to engage in fresh talks at Stormont, aimed at restoring power sharing to the region after almost two and a half years.

Speaking on BBC Radio Ulster’s The Nolan Show, Conor Murphy MP said that if the Northern Ireland Assembly failed, or blocked the issue of same sex marriage, Sinn Fein​ “had an assurance that it would be passed in Westminster”.

Mr Murphy implied the commitment was made by the UK government to the Sinn Fein​ negotiating team in February 2018, when talks last failed.

He added: “They were very clear about it.”

Northern Ireland is currently the only part of the UK where same sex marriage is not yet legal. As a devolved matter, it needs to be legislated for in the Northern Ireland Assembly but, despite a majority of politicians there supporting the measure, the DUP used a veto to block it five times between 2012 and 2015.

Since the collapse of power sharing at Stormont in January 2017 – in part because of the DUP’s refusal to respect equal rights – there have been repeated calls for MPs to use the impasse to take control of the issue, and deal with it at Westminster.

Acknowledging that such a move would see the Conservative government go over the heads of their DUP partners, Mr Murphy said Sinn Fein​ was told that there were “well above sufficient numbers” in favour of the measure in the Commons, and that it “did not require the DUP’s votes”.

The timing of Mr Murphy’s comments are curious, as they could undermine the talks as they get under way. As politicians aim to restore power sharing at Stormont, there is an implication that rights-based issues which Sinn Fein​ has held as red lines in this process would be easier resolved by a period of direct rule from London – the default route if talks fail.

This conflicts with Sinn Fein​’s principles as an Irish republican party, whose MPs abstain from taking their seats at Westminster.

The DUP doesn’t particularly want direct rule from London either, but there is a belief that some people within the party would see an advantage in issues like same sex marriage being dealt with at Westminster.

The DUP knows that same-sex marriage coming to Northern Ireland is only a matter of time, and a short period of direct rule would resolve the issue, without it being involved or responsible.

The current round of talks at Stormont are being overseen by secretary of state Karen Bradley and the Irish tanaiste Simon Coveney. In a statement released today, they outlined the issues on the table, including those around rights, language and identity which have stalled politics in Northern Ireland.

Reform of the petition of concern – the veto which the DUP has used to block same-sex marriage – is also on the agenda.

Leaving Stormont this afternoon, Ms Bradley said she hopes the parties will be given space over the next three weeks, and that she won’t comment while negotiations are ongoing.

The progress of the talks will be reviewed by the prime minister and the Irish taoiseach at the end of May.

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