The historic Irish abortion vote has created an unexpected problem for one world leader.
The historic Irish abortion vote has created an unexpected problem for one world leader.

IRELAND: Unexpected twist to historic vote

WHEN Ireland voted overwhelmingly to lift a ban on abortions, few expected it would cause major political problems in the UK.

But the landmark vote last week, which saw 66.4 per cent of voters support changing the Irish constitution, is threatening to open another major rift in the minority Conservative government of Theresa May.

Mrs May is under increasing pressure to allow a free vote on the abortion issue in Northern Ireland, which would be the only region in Ireland or the United Kingdom where abortion is banned if the Irish parliament accepts the referendum result.

Its strict laws don't allow for abortions even in the cases of rape or if the foetus is found to have a genetic abnormality.

But Mrs May is only in power thanks to support from Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party, which is staunchly in favour of keeping the strict laws in place. The problem has been made even more complex because the Northern Ireland Assembly that shares power with the London-based government has been suspended for several months.

That hasn't stopped activists and even her own MPs from demanding Mrs May seizes the moment and takes action.

Yes campaigners were overjoyed by the result.
Yes campaigners were overjoyed by the result.

The UK Prime Minister congratulated the Yes campaign by tweeting: "The Irish referendum was an impressive show of democracy which delivered a clear and unambiguous result. I congratulate the Irish people on their decision and all of #Together4Yes on their successful campaign."

So far though, there has been no sign she will take up the fight with her allies. The issue has come at a crucial time for Mrs May, who is trying to keep her Brexit plan in place ahead of a crucial vote in Parliament next month.

Sarah Wollaston, a member of Mrs May's Conservatives and chairwoman of the Health Select Committee, said she would vote in favour of extending abortion rights to "all women across the whole UK."

The abortion issue has put Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May on a collision course with her allies in parliament.
The abortion issue has put Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May on a collision course with her allies in parliament.

She said a referendum in Northern Ireland might be one way forward. Others have made similar proposals, including some from the rival Labour Party who have said they would work with the government on the issue.

Several prominent women in the Conservative party have waded in on the issue, and indicated their support for an Irish-style referendum on the issue - especially since the Assembly remained suspended.

But Arlene Foster, the leader of the DUP, said abortion rights could only be decided by the Assembly.

"The legislation governing abortion is a devolved matter and it is for the Northern Ireland Assembly to debate and decide such issues," she said. "Some of those who wish to circumvent the Assembly's role may be doing so simply to avoid its decision."

In a worrying sign for Mrs May, The Independent reported 130 of her colleagues were ready to push for reform.

The Yes vote could have far reaching consequences.
The Yes vote could have far reaching consequences.

As they agitated for change, the Justice Secretary warned of a possible collision course with Northern Ireland.

He told Sky News it would be "very, very dangerous for British politicians to be seen to be telling people in Northern Ireland how to vote".

"One of the reasons why we have a more peaceful situation in Northern Ireland is because we have delegated … There isn't a parliament in Stormont at the moment, so that puts a huge degree of trust and response on the Westminster government to have an interim government, but that mustn't be used to make fundamental constitutional ethical changes on behalf of the people of Northern Ireland."

- additional reporting: Associated Press

andrew.koubaridis@news.com.au