The Labour Party in Northern Ireland arguably made history on Thursday 20 September when the South Belfast Constituency Group, the first constituency group to be established in the north, voted unanimously in favour of extending the abortion act to Northern Ireland. This motion supports that women in Northern Ireland should have the right to choose as women in England, Scotland and Wales do. A motion was also proposed and passed in favour of the introduction of equal marriage legislation, which has been grabbing headlines in recent weeks.
What makes this small gesture (because, let's be honest- unfortunately it amounts to nothing more than a gesture/matter of principle) so significant in Northern Ireland? Essentially, this is possibly the first step that Labour may be taking in relation to fielding candidates in Nothern Ireland. Those in favour of doing so see Labour as a cross-community,
centre-left party that has the potential to appeal to the masses on areas which the main parties in the north often fail to make any significant headway on.
In a press statement released on Friday, LPNI secretary, Boyd Black, said that Labour recognised the reality that most people in Northern Ireland support liberalising abortion laws here, rather than further restricting them. He also described opposition to equal marriage as “simply an attempt to put the LGBT community back in the closet”.
In the last few months, LPNI have been garnering support for the standing of candidates in local elections, which came to a
climax with the SDLP's Alasdair McDonnell saying that he had no opposition to the idea. Many feel that Labour can fill the gap of a centre-left non-sectarian political party, focused on policies other than merely those concerning the border.
Will this move by Labour put any pressure on the main political parties in Northern Ireland to come out and publicly show their support (or lack thereof) for the introduction of equal marriage legislation to the Assembly? Will it reignite the firey debate that is so often held behind closed party doors on abortion? It opens an interesting door to policy debate.