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Action required: Government ploy to force through Sexual Orientation Regulations (SORs) in Northern Ireland

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21ST November 2006

 

Concerning Developments


After the recent news that the Government were delaying the England, Wales and Scotland SORs by 6 months to deal with the ‘difficult issues’ which minister Ruth Kelly admitted had been highlighted by the response of faith groups to the consultation, it was a shock to find that behind the scenes the Government are rushing through identical Regulations in Northern Ireland (NI) using their direct rule powers, while the Northern Ireland Assembly remains suspended.


The Government have already published the final version of the NI SORs and they are expected to be put before Parliament for a vote in a matter of days – the Government have said they will be in force by January 1st. This means the NI Regulations which have received far less thought and consideration, will set a precedent for the England, Wales and Scotland SORs which are not due to come into force until April 2007.


To rush the NI law through without even waiting to respond to the many submissions received to the NI consultation is unjust and undemocratic.  It is a tactic which appears to deliberately undermine the process of consultation that has gone on in England, Wales and Scotland. That the Government have done this in a place with such strong religious traditions and beliefs as Northern Ireland only worsens the situation.


Finally, the NI Regulations dramatically extend the law beyond the original proposals. The NI consultation expressly stated that no law on harassment would be brought in, and yet only 6 weeks later, the published final Regulations do make it illegal to harass someone on the basis of their sexual orientation. This is extremely concerning because the definition of harassment relies largely on the perception of the person who claims they were harassed: all they need do is allege that someone has ‘violated their dignity’ or that someone created a ‘hostile or insulting environment’ for them, and they can take legal action.


We urge you to read the attached letter that has been sent to all MPs and Peers and members of the Northern Ireland Assembly, which sets out the main points of concern.


WITH PRESS COVERAGE CRITICISING THE ACTION OF THE GOVERNMENT (see links below) AND PRESSURE BUILDING FROM MPS AND FAITH GROUPS, THE CALL TO CHRISTIANS IS CLEAR: CONTACT YOUR MP TO URGE THEM TO OPPOSE ANY VOTE BEING HELD ON THE NI REGULATIONS UNTIL THE SORs IN ENGLAND, WALES AND SCOTLAND HAVE BEEN FINALISED. THE NI REGULATIONS SHOULD NOT BE ALLOWED TO SET AN UNWORKABLE PRECEDENT FOR BRITISH LAW.





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