Stella Creasy is continuing to pursue her efforts to foist English abortion law on Northern Ireland despite it being a devolved matter for the Stormont assembly. I have commented on some of the issues related to this here, here and here.
Two of the bigger issues are these. First, the matter of democracy. When the Northern Ireland Justice Department carried out a public consultation on relaxing the legislation surrounding abortion for the region, 97% rejected any change in the law. But, for Creasy, it matters not that this is a devolved issue nor does that 97% bear hearing. For her, it is an issue of ‘human rights’. The problem, of course, is that democracy is a human right. So which should win out when there is a direct clash?
Interestingly, it should be noted that abortion is not a human right. There are, in fact, no international or multinational treaties that deal directly with abortion. Some wish to argue that it amounts to a basic medical procedure and come under international law relating to basic healthcare and is prescribed on the grounds of ‘bodily autonomy’. However, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), in 2010, found in the case of A, B and C v Ireland that the European Convention on Human Rights did not include a right to abortion. So, despite all the clamour to introduce abortion to Northern Ireland on the grounds of human rights, the ECHR has been clear that abortion is not a human right.
By contrast, the European Convention on Human Rights does insist that democracy is a human right. Indeed, it insists on the legitimacy of the legislative and executive bodies and that includes on devolved issues such as – yes, you’ve guessed it – abortion for Northern Ireland. So when there is a supposed clash of rights between Stella Creasy insisting Northern Ireland must suck it and adopt abortion despite their overwhelming opposition to it, she is not seeking to effect a basic human rights issue in line with the European Convention on Human Rights but is, in fact, bucking it.
Second, is the matter of peace. It cannot escape your notice that some are insisting the democratic vote to leave the EU will lead to a return to bombs and bullets in Northern Ireland. If the democratic decision of the people is enacted – they aver – we will find ourselves facing a hard border and an IRA bombing campaign. I question both of those things.
For one, no side wants a hard border and neither side would want to be seen as responsible for putting one up, so it is hard to see who will build it or enforce it. The sole issue is over transfer of goods, not anything that has ever exercised paramilitaries (beyond their drug and arms runs, which they managed quite happily to engage in whilst there was a hard border!) More to the point, the paramilitaries are far too fractured and the political party that has benefited most handsomely from the armalites being put down would be forced out of government altogether. Given they have a greater voice, and more power, than they have ever had before, it is extremely unlikely they would willingly give that up. Their entrance into a power-sharing agreement was their admission that they had lost the war. What is more, I highly doubt either community has any desire to go back to the days of The Troubles. Given that it requires the community to join the ranks of paramilitary organisations, a revival seems profoundly unlikely.
What is interesting, however, is that those who insist Brexit will devastate the fragile peace in the region – with little evidence that would actually be the case – seem quite happy to risk it in respect to abortion. The fact is, abortion is one of few unifying political issues in Ulster. Historically, both Catholic and Protestant communities have been dead against it. Sinn Fein are the only party to change their stance on the issue and it was in the face of some extreme internal wrangling – they are not unified on it themselves. The 97% response against any liberalisation of the abortion laws in the region is a testament to the near univocal opposition to Creasy’s suggestions.
This leaves Stella Creasy in something of a pickle. In the name of human rights, she wants to impose on Northern Ireland something that is not a human right (according to the ECHR) and to set aside their democratic human rights by overruling their directly elected devolved parliament, choosing to also ignore 97% of the electorate in the region in the process. She also wants to insist that the Brexit she opposes will break the fragile peace in Northern Ireland, whilst simultaneously foisting upon the region a policy that neither side want. Worst of all, perhaps, she wants to impose it from Westminster – when in recent years devolved matters such as this go through Stormont – thus, if not reigniting, certainly dousing some potentially volatile ground in a load of petrol by implementing her plans in the very way that so vexed the Republican movement in the past. Now, I don’t know about you, but for the sake of signalling one’s virtues to the watching world, all of this seems a tad sketchy and a bit risky to me.
But it shows one very clear thing. The democracy that certain liberals claim to so cherish can be rejected, ignored or overruled any time it doesn’t suit their agenda. ‘The people’ are a mere token to wave around whenever they happen to agree with you. If they don’t, they are to be cast off as idiots and bigots who don’t know what’s good for themselves. But this is the very paternalistic, colonial type attitude that such liberals have always insisted was a blight on British history and culture.
So what is it to be? Democracy or abortion for Northern Ireland? The devolved decision-making that her party introduced to the region or colonial imposition from Westminster? The upholding of democratic human rights or the imposition of made-up rights on the spurious grounds? Consistency between what you say you believe and what you actually believe or virtue signalling for the sake of patting yourself on the back for your right on views?
Be very clear, the way this question is answered is a far bigger threat to the peace in Northern Ireland than Brexit.