The Northern Ireland government, known as Stormont, has been suspended since 2017, due to political deadlock. This brings its governance back under UK Parliamentary control, as it is still part of the UK. UK Parliament has therefore had to take control of government function for the province, otherwise it would be left without governance. Much of this was to be decided by the Northern Ireland Executive Formation Bill.
The vote on extending same sex marriage to Northern Ireland, to bring it in line with the rest of the UK, was added as an amendment to the bill. It was tabled by Labour MP, Conor McGinn. A second amendment was tabled by Labour MP Stella Creasy on extending abortion rights to Northern Ireland by removing the ban. Both amendments were voted through on 9th July 2019.
This legislation passed successfully through the final stages of debate in parliament on 18th July, and unless the Northern Ireland government resumes power-sharing and governance of Northern Ireland before its adoption, it will come into effect in early 2020. If the executive function of the Northern Ireland government is restored, they will have the power to repeal, or approve, the legislation.
UK politicians were given a free vote, without a whip or party stance to support, and the votes were viewed as a matter of conscience.
Hundreds of MPs were not present for the vote, mainly due to other commitments, but some abstained. Theresa May was absent and did not vote.
The Northern Ireland minister, John Penrose, who spoke for the Northern Ireland government, told MPs that both proposed changes would have complications, but he went on to vote in favour of both amendments.
Pauline Latham, MP for Mid-Derbyshire, voted against both amendments.
99 MPs voted against the amendment to extend abortion rights to Northern Ireland (332 voted for it), and 73 MPs voted against extending same sex marriage to the province (383 voted for it).
Amnesty International: Northern Ireland director Patrick Corrigan said that it was a historic day for human rights.
With Pride in Belper coming on 3rd August, the question has been raised by concerned residents as to why our MP voted against same sex marriage for Northern Ireland, mirroring her votes in February 2013, when she voted No on the first and second reading of the Marriage (same sex) Bill for the UK. She later voted Aye at the third reading of the UK bill in May 2013. These were all also free votes, as a matter of conscience, without a whip or party stance. Her vote of Aye on the third reading is reported as a rebel vote, meaning that she voted differently to the majority of her party.
Pauline Latham released a statement on Twitter on the topic of her votes on the amendments to the Northern Ireland Executive Formation Bill,
Nailed contacted Pauline Latham to ask her to for a more informative statement on her votes in the context of the questions asked by the amendments.
Addressing both amendments, we asked:
- The vote was not on whether or not UK parliament should intercede in Northern Ireland’s politics, so the first question is why you didn’t abstain, if you felt that you should not be voting on the issue at all.
- The second is that your vote counts as an answer to the question asked, not a different one, and your answer was no. … why did you not take the opportunity to broaden rights for women (who currently have no government other than the UK parliament through which to get those rights)?
- … why did you not take the opportunity to stand for equality and support gay marriage in a free conscience vote?
Mrs. Latham responded to those questions by saying,
“The province is stagnating because of the suspension of the Stormont Assembly and allowing such an important issue to be decided by Westminster has created another barrier to the assembly sitting again.
“The reaction of the DUP has validated that view.
“I was convinced that same-sex marriage would rightly be allowed in Northern Ireland in the near future but felt that this decision should be made by the people of the province.
“The debate over this issue would have been a potential trigger for the Stormont Assembly to resume. With this in mind, I voted for what I perceived as the greater good in the very short term.
“This did not mean I am against same-sex marriage. I am not and did vote for it when we legislated for it.”
Pauline Latham will not be attending Pride in Belper due to a family commitment. She told us that she would attend if she did not have that commitment.
Photo: Rainbow over castle ruins in Northern Ireland by H. Hach (Creative Commons)