The relationship between Northern Ireland and England is complex. Technically part of the United Kingdom, this small northern corner of the island of Ireland has some political autonomy from Westminster. But due to government stalemate, abortion and same-sex marriage have been legalized there after members of Parliament passed a measure in London. It is a sad end to one of the most conservative abortion laws in the world and will likely put a strain on a historically troubled relationship.
When it comes to the relationship between Northern Ireland and Great Britain (England, Scotland and Wales), some historical context is probably good. Throughout British history, there have been several attempts to secure control over Ireland in its entirety, starting with the Anglo-Norman invasion in the 12th century.
After the rather successful conquest by the Normans, English peasants were installed in the country and some of the native Gaelic Irish were pushed out. There was also the invasion of the Scots, who were an independent Kingdom until England and Scotland were united under the rule of King James I. They also settled some of their people in the northern part of Ireland. The small island nation also became a point of contention between the British and the Spanish during the Anglo-Spanish war. Although King Henry VIII declared himself King of Ireland, it was difficult to hold as there were always native rebellions against English rule.
The Irish Potato Famine of the 1800s happened while the island was under the control of Westminster in London. About a million people died and the same number emigrated, mostly to the United States. Ireland eventually gained independence in 1922, but Northern Ireland, which was filled with many unionists and English settlers, remained with what became the United Kingdom. But this new country had a strong and vocal minority of Irishmen and Catholics who wanted to remain with the Republic of Ireland. This gave rise to the Irish Republican Army (IRA), which for years led terrorist attacks and bombings against England.
This may be a bit too much information, but it’s important to understand that the centuries old relationship between England and Northern Ireland has been civil at best, violent at worst.
The passing of legislation to legalize abortion and same-sex marriage by politicians in London is likely going to ruffle some feathers, especially since it was done while the territory struggles to form a cohesive government. Northern Ireland has a complex political system, and in order to ensure peace, it requires that the nationalist Sinn Fein party, which was the political arm of the IRA, and the Democratic Unionist Party elect ministers together. The parties haven’t been able to do so since January 2017, and those in the U.K. government have used this opportunity to pass this measure without input from the people of Northern Ireland.
According to Northern Ireland’s highest court, the abortion laws in the territory were considered in conflict with the U.K. human rights laws. Politicians in the U.K. agreed. The parties in Northern Ireland did have an opportunity to stop the measure and met for the first time in years on Monday, but they weren’t successful at creating a government that could challenge it.
Regardless of how anyone feels about abortion or same-sex marriage, it is frustrating to see London take the initiative and change the laws without input from the Irish people in their domain. Instead of letting the legislative process in Northern Ireland work itself out, London imposed its perspective and laws on the people of Northern Ireland.
There has been some celebrating by certain groups, but this is still a conservative area. That London has forced it to adopt such controversial measures could encourage remnants of the IRA and other groups that remain deeply opposed to the Protestant rule of England to act. If this is a decision that the people want to make, then it should be put to a vote or done through their legislature, not imposed on them from above. That’s almost always a recipe for disaster.
Above all, it is sad to see one of the most conservative abortion laws in the world be eliminated in such a banal way. According to reports, criminal investigations into abortion have already ceased and abortion will now be lawful after January 13, 2020 but not fully available until March. Hopefully, cohesion can return to the government and maybe Northern Ireland can once again reassert its autonomy when it comes to abortion and same-sex marriage.
Pray that this law will be challenged and overturned, and for the protection of mothers and their babies:
Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord;
Lord, hear my voice.
Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy.
If you, Lord, kept a record of sins, Lord, who could stand?
But with you there is forgiveness,
so that we can, with reverence, serve you.
I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits, and in his word I put my hope.
I wait for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning,
more than watchmen wait for the morning.
Israel, put your hope in the Lord, for with the Lord is unfailing love
and with him is full redemption.
He himself will redeem Israel from all their sins.
– Psalm 130