SoS's undermining of devolution ‘unhelpful’ 

25.3.2022 | Church in Society, Statements, Public Affairs

The Presbyterian Church in Ireland (PCI) has expressed its ‘deep regret’ and ‘grave concern’ at the continued and unhelpful undermining of devolution by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, as he signalled his intention this week, to give himself further powers to direct abortion services - powers which could now also impact education.

In a joint statement, Reverend Trevor Gribben, Clerk of the General Assembly and General Secretary of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, and Reverend Daniel Kane, Convener of PCI’s Council for Public Affairs, said, “As a Church with a strong pro-life position, over the last number of years we have consistently put on record our total opposition to the imposition by Westminster of the most destructive liberal abortion legislation in these islands. These imposed laws have taken away the legal protection of future generations of unborn children.

From the Secretary of State’s announcement on Thursday, we note that following May’s Assembly Election, he now intends to ask Parliament for a blank cheque which would confer ‘the power to do anything that a Northern Ireland Minister or department could do for the purpose of ensuring that the recommendations in paragraphs 85 and 86 of the CEDAW report are implemented.’ This relates not only to direct abortion services, but to other significant areas of life in Northern Ireland, including the education our children,” they said.

“We deeply regret the Secretary of State’s continued and unhelpful intention to take further powers from the Northern Ireland Assembly in relation to such sensitive issues in our society. Such a scenario would be unthinkable in the Scottish or Welsh devolved contexts.”

The ministers continued, “We reiterate our grave concern that this power grab by the Secretary of State devalues Northern Ireland’s purposely balanced system of negotiated government. It also gives him the freedom to interfere unilaterally, and at will, with many aspects of the devolved administration.”

“For example, the Secretary of State’s intervention could take away the right of schools to embrace a particular ethos with regard to the teaching of Relationships and Sexuality Education, and do so over the heads of school governors, teachers, parents and their locally elected representatives.”  

In conclusion, Mr Gribben and Mr Kane said, “As our Moderator has previously stated, our power sharing arrangements are ‘precious’ - they are also fragile. So far the Secretary of State has imposed abortion, stated his desire to enact unacceptable legacy legislation and now his intention to direct what should be taught in classrooms.

“It is our hope and prayer that Northern Ireland’s political parties will commit to working together proactively after the election to find a way forward for the common good. While we recognise that this will not be straightforward, the Secretary of State should commit to supporting and encouraging them in this endeavour, and not undermining it by his words and actions.”

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