Welcome to the 21st Century: How the Collapse of Stormont Paved the Way for Change

A rally in support of same-sex marriage in Belfast in May, brandishing the name of murdered LGBTQ+ activist and journalist Lyra McKee (Image source: nbcnews.com)

Jessica-Neve Smyth, Inkpot Editor.

At midnight on the 21st October 2019, history was made in Northern Ireland. The move to decriminalise abortion and legalise same-sex marriage took place as a result of the failure to restore NI Assembly at Stormont. There have been cries of praise as the country has stepped out of the ‘dark ages’.

However, there have also been cries of outrage at the amendments, particularly from Bernadette Smyth, the founder of Precious Life and Youth for Life. She claims the abortion law amendments have been “imposed upon Northern Ireland” by Westminster. Equal marriage rights and bodily autonomy would never have come about if not for Westminster’s involvement; Northern Ireland would have continued living under restrictive 19th century-style laws at the behest of our government.

MPs voted to legalise same-sex marriage in 2015, but the DUP vetoed it under a Petition of Concern. With the veto, it made the prospect of same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland seem frustratingly hopeless. Armed with the power to stifle any hope of equal rights, the governing body would have forever stood against us. It took the collapse of the government and Westminster taking Northern Ireland’s side in the fight for us to catch up with the rest of the UK. Though the absence of a functioning government has been extremely frustrating for many, I’m thankful that something as positive as the implementation of fundamental human rights has come as a result of this.

Pro-choice activists marking the long-awaited abortion law reform at Stormont. Image source: Amnesty Ireland

The DUP’s appearance at Stormont on the 21st October has been branded a “pantomime” in the Belfast Telegraph, and rightly so. Their concern over abortion legislation was nothing more than a political stunt. If they cared about restoring power-sharing or halting the legislation of same-sex marriage and abortion, they would have returned to Stormont long before.

How is it that stopping same-sex marriage and abortion law amendments count as the main concern for restoring government? What about the death of Lyra McKee, warning us of the violence that still prevails? Instead of restoring devolution to combat the violence that caused Lyra’s death, they instead wish to act against the reforms that she wanted to see brought about. The changes in same-sex marriage and abortion laws have done more to honour Lyra as an LGBTQ+ advocate and journalist.

The change of legislation for abortion and same-sex marriage was a refreshing change to a region that lagged behind the UK. Campaigners have worked tirelessly to make their voices heard, and it has finally paid off. Knowing that women finally have bodily autonomy and that the LGBTQ+ community can have the same rights as heterosexual couples gives me a glimmer of hope for the future. All I can say is welcome to the 21st Century, Northern Ireland.

Published by The Gown Queen's University Belfast

The Gown has provided respected, quality and independent student journalism from Queen's University, Belfast since its 1955 foundation, by Dr. Richard Herman. Having had an illustrious line of journalists and writers for almost 70 years, that proud history is extremely important to us. The Gown is consistent in its quest to seek and develop the talents of aspiring student writers.

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