Former DUP minister Jim Wells, who was previously called a “bigoted old dinosaur”, has called for a referendum on equal marriage and abortion in Northern Ireland.
His calls, which have been slammed as “highly insensitive”, came as bodily autonomy campaigners held a vigil in Dublin to remember Savita Halappanavar, who died seven years ago having wrongfully denied an abortion.
The ban on same-sex marriage and abortion rights was lifted at midnight on October 22 just over a year after the 8th amendment was repealed in the Republic of Ireland.
In July, Parliament voted to pass the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc.) Act, which obliges the Government to act if the devolved Northern Ireland Executive has not been re-established by October 21 2019.
Wells has a history of homophobic comments. In 2015, following allegations that Wells made critical comments about a lesbian couple’s “lifestyle”, he resigned as Health Minister. He had the DUP whip withdrawn in May 2018 after he criticised party leadership.
He told the Belfast Telegraph that a referendum was needed due to Westminster forcing through abortion rights and equal marriage “in less than an hour, without prior warning and with no consultation”.
During the second reading stage of the Northern Ireland Bill, the House of Commons debated the amendments for four hours and five hours during the third reading, which Wells “chose to ignore”, according to Alliance for Choice co-convener Naomi Connor.
“Mr Wells wishes to ignore the fact that this decision was not taken in ‘less than an hour’ and organisations including Alliance for Choice have campaigned for many decades on the decriminalisation of abortion in Northern Ireland. Mr Wells and others chose not to listen,” she told the Belfast Telegraph.
“Human rights are not an à la carte menu that Mr Wells can pick and choose from, and these matters should not be decided by referenda. It is doubtful that in the south of Ireland where the 8th amendment was repealed, that Mr Wells lauded the outcome as fair, democratic and the right decision.”
Ms Connor outlined that any hypothetical referendum “would not be legally binding as we do not have a written constitution”.
Following the election of openly-gay DUP candidate Alison Bennington, Wells said that the late Ian Paisley, the former leader of the DUP, would be “aghast” at the decision to run an openly-gay candidate.
It was announced this week, (October 28), that Wells will not be sanctioned over comments he made about Ms Bennington.
He told Irish News at the DUP annual conference that no action had been taken over his comments:
“There have been many occasions when party officials have said I should be hung at dawn, but it never happened – and I’m pleased at that,” he said.
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