The first debates of Conference rightly focussed on Northern Ireland with delegates pledging that UNISON will campaign to protect the Good Friday Agreement especially in the context of the UK exit from the EU.
UNISON will also demand that the UK Government immediately fulfil its obligations to bring forward an inclusive, enforceable Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland. This must include the obligations to immediately legislate on issues including an Irish Language Act, abortion rights and equal marriage.
On marriage equality, Scotland regional delegate, Elaine Duffy, explained that: “Although legislation was passed in England, Scotland and Wales and there was the successful marriage equality referendum in the Republic of Ireland, same sex couples are still denied the right to marry in Northern Ireland.
“Also couples who have been legally married in other parts of the UK or Ireland are not recognised as married under Northern Ireland law – they are only recognised as being in a civil partnership.”
Elaine underlined the historic vote that had finally been won in the Northern Ireland Assembly for marriage equality – the DUP for then lodged a petition of concern to veto the majority vote of the Assembly and to block the introduction of marriage equality.
It did this using a mechanism that was introduced to do the opposite – to ensure that the Northern Ireland Assembly did not fall into the old ways by adopting discriminatory policies.
Elaine said: “It is both ironic and deeply disturbing that the DUP should use a potential equality procedure to block equality of opportunity. It is also a very visible and shocking display of homophobia.
“We can only sense how deep the frustration is for our members and people in the LGBT community as a whole. Campaigns that would change the lives of men, women and children across a society that really deserves equality and human rights have been continually fought, won and then frustrated by this undemocratic form of political obstructions.”
Slamming the UK Government for its side stepping of its responsibilities, Elaine made it clear that it needs to revisit the wording of the Good Friday Agreement: “ It has the prime responsibility for ensuring that human rights in Northern Ireland are compatible with international human rights standards.”
Calling us all to action, Elaine said: “It is time for us to exert pressure from across the UK to make the Government face its responsibilities. We need to do this in the interest of our people. If the consequence of succeeding is that the Tories’ disgraceful deal with the DUP fails, that can only be good for all people.”