Just 24 hours after a DUP-Conservative Alliance was put forward by Theresa May, there are reports that the Democratic Unionist Party could push for amendments to UK abortion laws as part of their support for May's flailing government. CAITLIN DE JODE, who grew up with the reality of this deeply conservative party in Ireland reveals why Theresa May's new partnership is deeply worrying for all of us. Here's her account.
“For many Northern Irish people, waking up (or in my case, staying up) on Friday morning after the General Election felt almost like entering an alternative universe. While British journalists and voters frantically googled “what is the DUP”, those of us living in England spent the day educating the people around us on the policies and positions of the Conservative Party’s new best friends. In case you haven’t heard – they’re anti-abortion, anti-same sex marriage and some of them don’t believe in climate change. I grew up in the shadow of the Democratic Unionist Party and Britain is in for a shock.
On a normal day, no one in Britain pays much attention to the fact that gay marriage and abortion are both illegal in Northern Ireland, which can be incredibly frustrating for those of us campaigning for change. Friday however, was different.
I grew up in one of the safest DUP seats in Northern Ireland – North Antrim, represented in Westminster by Ian Paisley Junior, the son of the party’s founder. The DUP’s roots lie in hardline, evangelical Christianity and a historic rejection of power-sharing agreements with nationalists. They campaigned against the Sunningdale Agreement of 1974, the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985 and the Good Friday Agreement of 1998, which secured Northern Ireland a fragile peace. In March 2007, the DUP entered a power-sharing agreement with Sinn Fein, leading the devolved government at Stormont until earlier this year, and remaining the largest party after the last assembly elections in March.
Whilst the opinions of many of the Democratic Unionist Party’s MPs on climate change and LGBT+ rights are frankly shocking, the party’s firm opposition to any reform of Northern Ireland’s draconian abortion laws means women actually end up before the courts.
As the 1967 Abortion Act was never extended to Northern Ireland, the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act still applies, and women who procure a termination can face up to life imprisonment – even if they’ve become pregnant as a result of a sexual crime. In recent years there have been calls from politicians and lobbyists across Northern Ireland to liberalise these laws, but all have been rejected by the Democratic Unionist Party.
The London-Irish Abortion Rights Campaign is a grassroots organisation of more than 1000 members, pushing for free, safe and legal abortion in Northern Ireland and the Republic. Organiser, Cara Sanquest, said: “We are gravely concerned about the situation which is unfolding following Friday’s election. A Conservative-DUP government is bad news for the reproductive rights of women in Northern Ireland where abortion in punishable by up to life in prison. The DUP had consistently blocked any attempts to allow abortion even in limited circumstances. They are out of step with the Conservative party and the people of the Britain on many moral and social issues, having also blocked attempts to legalise gay marriage in Northern Ireland.”
Its time that people knew the reality of the party that Theresa May is on the brink of getting in to bed with, and speak out.
Words: Caitlin De Jode