Theresa May’s slow and cautious ‘congratulations’ to Irish women on the abortion referendum result betrayed the quandary she faces because of her dependence on the DUP (Democratic Unionist Party) for even the feeble semblance of government the Tories are currently managing.
May – more than eighteen hours after Jeremy Corbyn – eventually tweeted a kind of congratulation to Irish people, but danced around the issue and made it more about the general exercise of democracy than about a victory for women’s rights over a long-standing oppressive law:
It was in strong contrast to Corbyn’s clear message the previous evening:
While May’s tweet formed her official position, Downing Street was busy briefing that she had no intention of calling a referendum in Northern Ireland, as many activists have been demanding – and many even on her front bench have indicated they are willing to support – and every intention of kicking the issue into the longest, furthest grass possible.
Aides have been telling journalists that any change to abortion laws in Northern Ireland,
is an issue for Northern Ireland. It shows one of the important reasons we need a functioning executive back up and running.
As there is no prospect of the restoration of a functioning executive, this is equivalent to binning the demand for the foreseeable future. The DUP is as intent as ever on ignoring an inquiry into Arlene Foster’s controversial, deeply dysfunctional and colossally expensive ‘Renewable Heat Incentive’ scheme – a ‘red line’ issue for Sinn Fein – while the imbalance of power in Northern Ireland because of the Tory-DUP ‘confidence and supply’ deal makes even any kind of constructive discussion unlikely.
Ms Foster has May over a barrel – and the similarity between the line taken in those Downing Street briefings to Foster’s own comments shows who is the ventriloquist and who is the dummy in this scenario.
Arlene Foster’s comments to the BBC made it clear that she has no intention whatever of giving May any wiggle-room on the issue:
Friday’s referendum has no impact upon the law in Northern Ireland, but we obviously take note of issues impacting upon our nearest neighbour,” Mrs Foster said in a statement.
The legislation governing abortion is a devolved matter and it is for the Northern Ireland Assembly to debate and decide such issues.
Theresa May’s vacillation over Ireland’s decision to ‘repeal the eighth’ is another facet of her paralysis over the Irish border issue that has yet again crashed the Tories’ Brexit discussions with the EU.
But while she continues to perform a charade of ‘achievement’ in those discussions, the clearly-defined and single nature of the Northern Ireland abortion issue makes it impossible for her to dissemble convincingly.
May is clearly terrified of Arlene Foster – but she should be more afraid of the power of women and the unsuitability of the abortion issue for false claims of change or progress.
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