Sinn Fein claims UK Government ‘assured’ gay marriage in Northern Ireland

Conor Murphy, Mary Lou McDonald and Michelle O'Neill smiling

The British Government has denied reports it is prepared to overrule the DUP to introduce equal marriage in Northern Ireland.

Sinn Fein and the DUP began fresh talks aimed at restoring power-sharing to Northern Ireland on Tuesday (May 7).

The region’s devolved parliament collapsed more than two years ago over a bungled renewable energy scheme. A lengthy impasse has ensued, with the DUP’s opposition to equal marriage forming a major stumbling block in attempts to reach a deal.

Conor Murphy, a former MP and MLA, has suggested that the UK Government was at one point prepared to intervene to break the impasse.

“The issue of equal marriage was going to be presented in the Assembly,” he told BBC Radio Ulter’s Stephen Nolan on Tuesday (May 7).

“If it failed, we had an assurance it would be passed by Westminster.”

“We had an assurance it would be passed by Westminster.”

—Conor Murphy, Sinn Fein

Murphy implied that the pledge was made to Sinn Fein during the last round of power-sharing talks in February 2018.

He told Nolan that “there are well above sufficient numbers in the House of Commons to pass equal marriage for the North.”

Westminster has denied that it would become directly involved in the matter.

“It has been the UK Government’s consistent position that the best way forward is for locally accountable politicians in Northern Ireland to make decisions that affect the lives of the people they serve,” a UK Government spokesperson told PinkNews.

“We want to see devolved government restored as soon as possible – and today’s talks are an important step forward in this process.”

DUP blocks same-sex marriage

Northern Ireland lags behind the rest of the UK and the Republic of Ireland in terms of same-sex marriage.

Stormont has voted on legislation five times since 2012, and was able to command a slim majority for marriage equality in November 2015.

However the bill was blocked by the DUP using a petition of concern, a mechanism designed to ensure that legislation has the backing of both republicans and nationalists.

In recent weeks, it has been suggested that equal marriage could be introduced in tribute to lesbian journalist Lyra McKee, who was shot dead while observing riots on April 18.

Amnesty International calls for UK intervention

The human rights group Amnesty International has accused the Government of consciously frustrating attempts to circumvent Stormont on the issue of equal marriage.

Spokesman Patrick Corrigan said that while Amnesty was not aware of the specific assurances mentioned by Murphy, it believes that there were plans to let backbenchers take control of the process.

“As a draft DUP-Sinn Fein deal was shaping up last February, Karen Bradley [then-Northern Ireland Secretary] gave an on-the-record response to a written question from Conor McGinn MP, which committed the Government only to allowing a free vote if backbenchers brought same-sex marriage legislation to Parliament,” he told the Belfast Telegraph.

A woman holding a poster which says "support gay marriage"

Campaigners march through Belfast to protest against the lack of same-sex marriage. (Paul Faith/AFP/Getty Images)

“Just a week later, the political talks collapsed without agreement.

“In the intervening 15 months, the Government has not only not lifted a finger to bring marriage equality to Northern Ireland, but they have actively frustrated efforts to progress private members’ bills which were subsequently introduced in both Houses of Parliament.”

Amnesty said that the Government must end “second-class citizenship” for Northern Ireland’s LGBT+ community.

“If Stormont won’t or can’t deliver equality, then Westminster must,” Corrigan added.