SEVERAL Tyrone MLAs are expected to be among those assembly members returning to sit in Stormont for the first time in almost three years this afternoon.
With the North’s abortion laws due to be liberalised in the continued absence of the Northern Ireland Executive, more than 30 MLAs last week signed a petition for the Assembly to be recalled.
Power-sharing arrangements in the North collapsed in January 2017 in the wake of the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scandal.
However, last week, DUP leader, Arlene Foster, said that she and her party’s other MLAs would return to the Chamber “without pre-condition”.
The Fermanagh and South Tyrone MLA said, “We urge other MLAs who oppose the extreme liberalisation of our abortion law, to step outside any party shackles and join us in recalling the Assembly. It’s time to get Northern Ireland moving again.”
Also signing the recall petition were four Ulster Unionists, including outgoing party leader Robin Swann, and TUV leader Jim Allister.
It is understood that two West Tyrone representatives, the DUP’s Tom Buchanan and the SDLP’s Daniel McCrossan, who has a pro-life stance, will be in attendance at Stormont today.
Fermanagh and South Tyrone MLA, Rosemary Barton, of the UUP, will also be in the chamber.
On Friday, Mrs Barton appealed to the other MLAs to come along.
She added, “Abortion is a serious issue and needs to be debated.”
But opponents of the move, including Mr McCrossan’s own party leader Colm Eastwood, have dismissed it as a cynical political stunt.
They have pointed out that the recall would not affect the impending law changes, as it would need an executive to be appointed too.
None of Sinn Féin’s three West Tyrone MLAs – Declan McAleer, Catherine Kelly and Maoliosa McHugh – will be in the chamber.
Mr McAleer said, “If we were to go back to the Assembly chamber it would be on a sustainable basis, not as part of a stunt.”
Earlier this year, the UK Parliament at Westminster passed legislation stating that, if the Northern Ireland Executive was not restored by today (October 21, 2019), then the UK government would be obliged to change the law in the North relating to three key issues, including abortion.
The changes would mean that, immediately from tomorrow (October 22), women who seek to access abortion services in the North will no longer be prosecuted.
The legislation, which received the Royal Assent on July 24 this year, will also extend same-sex marriage to Northern Ireland by January 13, 2020, as well as introducing a system of payments for victims of the Troubles – or “victims pension” – in the North.