The Presbyterian Church in Ireland and the Irish Methodist Church have both expressed their ‘grave concern’ at proposals to allow the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to give direction to Northern Ireland’s Department of Health, over the head of the Northern Ireland Executive.

In a statement the Presbyterian Church said,

“The Presbyterian Church in Ireland’s General Council Standing Committee, meeting today, noted with grave concern the proposal of the Secretary for State for Northern Ireland to seek powers to give direction to Northern Ireland’s Department of Health.

“To do so at a time when the Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive is functioning, represents a serious undermining of the devolved settlement, when there is already significant tension regarding other aspects of the way Northern Ireland is being affected post Brexit.

“The Presbyterian Church in Ireland objected strongly to the Westminster government previously imposing laws on Northern Ireland that removed the protection of the lives of unborn children. This damaging step was taken over the heads of our elected Assembly, with the excuse given that the devolved institutions were not functioning at that time. No such excuse for the undermining of devolution can be used at this time.

Presbyterian Church in Ireland

The statement concluded by saying,

“The Presbyterian Church calls upon the Secretary of State not to take the step he proposes and to let the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly seek to find a consensus way forward, in line with the principle upon which devolution is founded.”

Presbyterian Church in Ireland

The Rev Dr David Clements of the Irish Methodist Council on Social Responsibility said,

The Council on Social Responsibility of the Methodist Church in Ireland is gravely concerned at the proposal to empower the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to give directions to the Department of Heath on abortion services, usurping the role of the Northern Ireland Executive.   

At the time we lamented the extent to which abortion legislation for Northern Ireland was liberalised at Westminster.  It was done while the Executive here was not functioning.  It is functioning now, albeit with various difficulties and we counsel against the Secretary of State acting in any way that undermines the role of the Executive.  

This is about more than the difficult matter of abortion, about which there are differing and sincerely held opinions.  This is about the purpose, value and integrity of devolution.  We hope that the Secretary of State will tread wisely and cautiously and enable the Assembly and the Executive to fulfil the roles entrusted to them by the people of Northern Ireland.

Rev. Dr David Clements