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On a recent visit to Northern Ireland, U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May announced in her speech that her government will ensure “there is no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland and no border in the U.K.” In this case she was specifically referring to the ongoing issue of the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland and its influence on the Brexit negotiations. But if Theresa May is determined that the United Kingdom remains uniform in its approach to Brexit, why are human rights — as we’ve seen with the lack of LGBTQ rights in Northern Ireland — negotiable?
It has been over a year since the last general election left the Conservative Party short of the 10 seats it needed to form a majority in the House of Commons and forced them into a confidence and supply arrangement with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and, conveniently, its 10 MPs.
The DUP is a Northern Irish political party wedded to the concept of keeping Northern Ireland within the U.K. and opposing Irish reunification. They are also fiercely opposed to any LGBTQ rights in Northern Ireland (and elsewhere), and have been at the forefront of preventing issues like marriage equality becoming a reality for people in Northern Ireland.
Despite DUP leader Arlene Foster attending an LGBT event in Stormont last month — an event where she reiterated her party’s opposition to equality for same-sex couples and voiced support for businesses that wished to turn away LGBT customers — there has been nothing but disappointment when it comes to LGBT rights in Northern Ireland, thanks largely to the DUP.
Last month, Penny Mordaunt MP, Minister for Equalites, launched the very first LGBT Action Plan by a U.K. government. The document is designed to set out how the government will advance the causes of LGBT people in the United Kingdom — except the words “Northern Ireland” are mentioned once, only to highlight that the region exists.
No action is promised on long outstanding issues for the LGBT community in Northern Ireland. Amongst these are things like the Sexual Orientation Strategy (promised since 2006), the lack of IVF treatment for lesbian couples, the removal of the 12-month deferral on blood donations from men who have sex with men, and so on.
Even the things that are being promised aren’t set in stone. The government clarified with LGBT rights campaigner Micky Murray that the coming ban on conversion therapy in the U.K. would not extend to Northern Ireland as there is currently no devolved government here to take it forward.
In an October 2017 speech, Theresa May had the audacity to comment that her government was “standing up for LGBT rights and challenging those governments that inflict discrimination.” May said this, despite the fact that at the same time her party was beholden to ten MPs from a party that, since 2007, has been the largest Government party in Northern Ireland and has actively campaigned to make life harder for LGBT people.
This talking out of both sides of their mouths is not only nonsense, but it is frankly insulting. Back in May, Conservative MP Christopher Chope used Parliamentary conventions to block a Private Member’s Bill by Conor McGinn that would have legalized equal marriage in Northern Ireland.
There is already a border between Northern Ireland and Great Britain, much as there is already a border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland on the issue of human rights. We are the victims of a postcode lottery, maintained by the apathy of a government that won’t act to alleviate generations of discrimination for queer people in Northern Ireland, yet will wax lyrical about their achievements on LGBT rights closer to home.
These achievements, and the government’s current LGBT Action Plan are worthless, hollow sentiments that ignore the simple truth underpinned by their current deal with the DUP: Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.