Labour’s shadow Northern Ireland secretary Owen Smith has said that Theresa May should now force the devolved government to extend the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act if power-sharing talks fail.
Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) leader Arlene Foster has said there is “no current prospect” of a deal to restore power sharing with Sinn Féin at Stormont.
Northern Ireland has been without a devolved government since the last one collapsed in January 2017 amid a renewable energy scheme scandal.
Both Sinn Féin and the DUP blamed each other for the failure of the talks.
We join our friends & colleagues in NI in calling on the British govt to immediately legislate for marriage equality. NI LGBT couples are entitled to the same dignity & rights afforded to LGBT people in Britain and here in the South @Love_EqualityNI #Stormont
— NXF (@nxfie) February 15, 2018
In a statement, Smith said Theresa May’s Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley should now “take forward issues such as equal marriage”.
“This is desperately disappointing news, especially as there had been widespread hope last week that a deal might be reached,” Owen’s statement read.
“It seems clear, however, that the cause of the breakdown was the DUP’s unwillingness to accept legislation to support the Irish language or marriage equality.
“Their lack of leadership on these issues, despite their powerful position in Stormont and Westminster, leaves Northern Ireland without an accountable government or a voice in the Brexit negotiations.”
Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK that is yet to recognise same-sex marriage in law, despite several attempts to introduce marriage equality through the devolved assembly.
The socially-conservative DUP has staunchly opposed the bills, vetoing them using petitions of concern, which were designed to safeguard minority rights in the region.
— Love Equality NI (@Love_EqualityNI) February 14, 2018
Before talks began, Sinn Fėin party leader Mary-Lou McDonald laid out some of the details of the agreement which included a Diversity Act. She said that while there was no “meeting of minds” on same sex marriage, the matter would likely be considered by a private members bill.
The power-sharing talks are believed to have collapsed over a proposed Irish language act. A key Sinn Féin demand, the act would put the Irish language on a par with English.
However, the DUP has said it would only accept the proposal if Ulster Scots was also added to the law. This resulted in Sinn Féin abandoning talks.
— Mary Lou McDonald (@MaryLouMcDonald) February 14, 2018
Deputy leader of Sinn Fein said that had the agreement been honoured, they would have been in government today:
“Given that the DUP leadership has now prevented this the two governments must now move ahead to implement existing agreements on legacy and an Irish Language Act and meet their obligations for equality, by bringing forward legislation on marriage equality.”
Theresa May has expressed her disappointment at the breakdown.
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