Put something Irish in front of me and I’ll usually drool, sing with joy, or drool some more (I’m thinking of potatoes, U2 and Jonathan Rhys Myers respectively). But not this time! After Thursday’s snap election resulted in a surprisingly well hung parliament, Theresa May (who, somewhat foolishly, we held out some hope for but 11 months ago) has now rashly agreed a ‘confidence and supply’ deal with the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party. Cue everyone outside of Northern Ireland turning to their phones to Google who the DUP actually are – and, well, let’s just say the DUP don’t quite align with our values here at ABGC.
The media have had a field day in telling the nation that the DUP are essentially a bunch of climate-change-denying Creationist bigots, represented by some questionable MPs and headed up by a controversial leader whose own ministers say should focus on the ‘most important job’ of being a ‘wife, mother and daughter’. Indeed, their 2017 manifesto doesn’t make any reference to women other than addressing the ‘unfair treatment of women pensioners’, and several senior party officials have been picked up on for their sexist attitudes. But there are two big red flags that are currently being waved right in the faces of concerned female citizens: abortion and LGBTQ+ rights.
In the Republic of Ireland, the Repeal the Eighth movement has this year gathered a lot of support both within and without the Emerald Isle. The Eighth Amendment of the Irish Constitution recognises the right to life of an unborn child, essentially criminalising abortion. High-profile cases of women who’ve died as a result of unsafe ‘backstreet’ abortions led to a strike and march on International Women’s Day this year to force the issue back under political scrutiny.
Whilst progress seems to be being made by pro-choice supporters over the border, in Northern Ireland, abortion laws have not seen so much opposition. Although the 1967 Abortion Act saw abortion in the UK legalised (with certain caveats, such as two doctors signing the procedure off against a checklist of rationales), due to devolution, the Act was not extended to Northern Ireland, and abortion is currently punishable by a life sentence.
Former DUP Health Minister Jim Wells controversially stated that even in cases of rape, the ‘ultimate victim’ – the unborn child – should not be subject to punishment via termination, and the party’s current leader Arlene Foster has stated that she would not accept the extension of the 1967 Act to Northern Ireland. With the first reports of a Tory-DUP deal came fears that the DUP may make certain demands regarding the changing of abortion laws (such as reducing the timeframe in which a woman may seek an abortion) in return for a coalition agreement. Which is a pretty scary thought: will Mrs May really lay down women’s rights in exchange for a little longer in the limelight?
Again, over the border in Eire, same-sex marriage was legalised via referendum in 2015, with 62% of voters supporting marriage equality for LGBTQ+ couples. In Northern Ireland, however, same-sex marriage is not legally recognised, with all DUP members in the Northern Ireland Assembly voting against it in the same year it was legalised down south; Arlene Foster adopted the religious angle by saying that marriage could only be a union between a man and a woman.
Not content with merely blocking equal rights in the Assembly, several high-profile members of the party have spoken out against homosexuality: Ian Paisley Jr (son of the former DUP leader, who led a campaign in the 1970s to ‘Save Ulster from Sodomy’) called same-sex relationships ‘immoral, offensive and obnoxious’, claiming he was ‘repulsed’ by gays and lesbians. (I assume they’re not too keen on him either); Jim Wells claimed the ‘gay lobby’ was ‘insatiable’ and that children raised in homosexual families were more likely to be abused; Peter and Iris Robinson both called homosexuality an ‘abomination’ decreed by ‘the Almighty’. Can the Prime Minister really think that aligning herself with such polemical vitriol will secure the personal mandate she so foolhardily seeks?
With every hour, let alone every day, of this election era bringing farcical twists and fresh controversies, who knows how this deal with pan out? People have already taken to the streets of Westminster in protest. If you were unable to attend, but are sitting here uneasy about the implications of the above stances becoming more politically valid, you can sign this petition against the coalition of chaos.
Until next month,