Alliance Party Deputy Leader, Stephen Farry MLA, has challenged Sinn Féin to ensure meaningful reform of the Petition of Concern, if they are serious about delivering upon abortion reform and other rights issues. This comes after Sinn Fein adopted a new policy on abortion at their annual Ard Fheis.
Stephen Farry said: “Sinn Féin are placing huge emphasis on their new party position on abortion. Efforts to reform abortion law in Northern Ireland have been ongoing for many years, and have been frustrated in part by the presence and threat of the petition of concern in the Assembly. Abortion is a matter of conscience for Alliance elected representatives, and within this framework some Alliance MLAs have been working for reform over many years.
“If serious reform is to be delivered through the Northern Ireland Assembly then the petition of concern is going to require significant reform. This is central to open progress on a whole range of rights issues.
“Alliance has been clear that the Petition of Concern should be restricted for a narrow set of circumstances linked to the particular circumstances of Northern Ireland. Its misuse and abuse around rights issues is a warping of the original reason why the Petition of Concern was devised.
“So if Sinn Féin are serious about advancing abortion reform and other rights issues, then they need to be very serious and committed to reform of the petition of concern. In the recent past, Sinn Féin have paid only lip-service to reform and have not made it a priority. Instead, it has focused on deals around specific rights issues rather than general reform that would enable current and future challenges to be addressed democratically. Simply, remitting Petition of Concern reform to a working-group or for more discussion is not sufficient. That approach has been tried and failed in the past.
“Ultimately, Sinn Féin’s credibility on rights issues is linked to ensure that the means to deliver exists through a reformed Northern Ireland Assembly.”