Northern Ireland’s democratic failure

The DUP has blocked a majority vote in favour of same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland. How are power sharing measures hindering democracy and progress? Danni Glover investigates.


It’s been another red letter day in Northern Irish politics. This week, we’re all arguing over same-sex marriage and the various ways it could damage a community which still employs a massive wall so that Catholics and Protestants don’t have to see each other. There is good and bad news to report. The good news is that for the first time, our representatives at Stormont have voted (very narrowly) in favour of reforming marriage law in Northern Ireland to include same-sex couples. The bad news is that the DUP, the party that gives a bad name to the word “party”, has entered a Petition of Concern to block the vote from becoming law. This is something they’re legally allowed to do due to the fact that democracy in Northern Ireland means that church and state shouldn’t be separated, because then some extremists who rather like the church might explode something. Like the middle ages, only with ski masks.

So, to sum up: the Democratic Unionist Party, acting on behalf of the Protestant community in Northern Ireland, decided to ignore the fact that 68% of the total population are in favour of same-sex marriage, decided further to ignore the LGB Protestants who want to marry someone of the same-sex, and instead listened to the narrow whining of Evangelical Christian pressure groups such as the Caleb Foundation, a group whose other major points of conviction are that football shouldn’t be played on Sundays and that the Giant’s Causeway is 6000 years old. It’s more than a little absurd.

The good news is that for the first time, our representatives at Stormont have voted (very narrowly) in favour of reforming marriage law in Northern Ireland to include same-sex couples. The bad news is that the DUP, the party that gives a bad name to the word “party”, has entered a Petition of Concern to block the vote from becoming law.

Nationalist MLAs who participated voted unanimously in favour of the bill (as did 4 Unionists) – as if there are no Catholic residents of Northern Ireland who would be personally opposed to the idea of same-sex marriage (hiya Bishop Treanor!) – but, as Sinn Fein and SDLP MLAs astutely observed, the question was not one of whether the Catholic/Nationalist and Protestant/Unionist communities individually deserved the right to same-sex marriage: it was whether Northern Ireland did. And if you ask the Northern Irish people – that’s the people who elected these representatives – they say “Yes” with an even more convincing majority than those in the Republic did during this year’s referendum.

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Figures courtesy of the NIA

Politicians who use these divisions across the community as a smoke screen for their own agenda do nothing to help heal the wounds left in the wake of the conflict, fostering religious tensions by refusing to acknowledge that some decisions don’t need to be deferred to so-called “power sharing measures” but should be handled by our elected representatives in the interest of our whole community. And as a spokesperson from Amnesty International pointed out, the irony of a measure that was developed to protect the rights of minority groups post-ceasefire being used to deny the rights of other groups seems to be lost on the DUP entirely.

I’m sure I don’t need to explain why marriage equality is important. If an opportunity can be accessed by one group of people, then it should be accessible to all. We shouldn’t create a separate opportunity for them. Separate but equal is not democratic; it’s dangerous. This is why civil partnerships just don’t cut the mustard.

Politicians who use these divisions across the community as a smoke screen for their own agenda do nothing to help heal the wounds left in the wake of the conflict…

The fact is that, in Northern Ireland, public figures regularly get away with saying shit like “You don’t bring a child up in a homosexual relationship. That a child is far more likely to be abused and neglected,” and that child abuse is “comparable to the act of homosexuality. I think they are all comparable. I feel totally repulsed by both,” and “I am pretty repulsed by gay and lesbianism. I think it is wrong. I think that those people harm themselves and – without caring about it – harm society.”

Northern Irish politicians can say things like that, in public, in the twenty-first century, because the LGBTQ+ community in Northern Ireland is treated like an other, and people who are not the same as you don’t deserve the same rights or dignity. It’s time we were treated like citizens, and while the DUP may disagree with me, the majority of my neighbours in the province, thankfully, don’t.

Follow Danni on Twitter (@danvestite)

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