Anti-gay marriage UUP to withdraw from Northern Ireland coalition

The Ulster Unionist Party, a key opponent of same-sex marriage, is set to withdraw from the power-sharing Northern Irish Executive.

The UUP alongside the Democratic Unionist Party has helped repeatedly vote down same-sex marriage measures, most recently blocking a motion in the Stormont Assembly in April.

The fourth attempt to introduce equality was rejected by 49 votes to 47 – with Sinn Féin, Alliance and the SDLP in favour, and the DUP and Ulster Unionists voting against.

The UUP gave its MLAs a ‘free’ vote on the issue – though all but one of them voted against in line with party policy. The party also opposes any plans to introduce a referendum on the issue, despite the landslide victory for equality in the Republic of Ireland.

Until now, the ruling Executive has been a power-sharing coalition of the DUP, Sinn Féin, SDLP,  UUP, and Alliance – but the UUP today signalled it would leave.

Mike Nesbitt, the UUP leader, announced the party would leave the Executive due to a “breakdown in trust” with Sinn Féin over controversies surrounding the IRA.

He said: “My recommendation is that the UUP withdraw from the Northern Ireland Executive. We will then form an opposition and offer people an alternative, as is normal in any proper democracy.

“We are in a bad place but this can be fixed. This is not an easy decision for the UUP – we are a party of government, but we believe this is the right thing to do at this time.”

He added that a meeting of the party’s elected members had “endorsed the recommendation unanimously” – though it will now head to the party executive.

The move will plunge the devolved government into crisis – though it is unclear what eventual effect the move will have with respect to equal marriage, as the more solidly anti-gay DUP will stay on the Executive.