Abortion and Brexit divide Foyle unionists

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If someone tells you they’re all the same, it’s lies, there are deep fissures between the unionist candidates standing in Foyle on Thursday, May 5, not least on the highly contentious issues of abortion and Brexit.

DUP candidate Gary Middleton and Independent Maurice Devenney have both confirmed that they are opposed to the extension of the 1967 Abortion Act here.

Ulster Unionist candidate Julia Kee, by contrast, is in favour of the legislation being implemented.

The candidates confirmed their respective stances at a pre-election hustings event at St Columb’s Park House, which was organised by the Londonderry Bands Forum.

Mr Devenney said: “I am totally opposed to ‘abortion on demand’ but one thing I would be flexible on is when the mother’s life or the baby is at risk.”

Officially, the UUP regards abortion as a matter of conscience for individual members but its candidate in Foyle had no hesitation in indicating her pro-choice position.

“Even that very term, and I apologise if I annoy anybody, but even that very term ‘abortion on demand’ is sickening,” she said.

“A woman does not take an easy choice, I would say, to have an abortion. I would be fully supportive of the extension of the 1967 Act to Northern Ireland.

“I think women are being treated unfairly in Northern Ireland and I would support that going forward.”

Mr Middleton said: “Obviously it’s a very sensitive issue and something that has been focused on in recent weeks, very insensitive comments have been made, very hurtful comments, but I think we have to bear in mind that this affects not only the woman involved but also the man involved and of course, the life of the unborn child.

“I think it is so sensitive that we have to step very carefully. I am unashamedly pro-life as is my party who are against the extension of the 1967 Abortion act here to Northern Ireland.”

On the biggest geo-political decision facing our political leaders in a generation, the candidates were similarly divided.

Supporting Brexit, Mr Middleton said: “For every £1.58 that we put into Europe we get £1 back and I think that’s unacceptable in itself.

“I’ve been out on the doorsteps talking to the farming community over the last number of weeks and I would easily say that 80 per cent of them would be in favour of coming out of the European Union.

Mr Devenney also wants out: “On the doors, certainly, the farmers I’ve spoken to over these last number of weeks are going to be voting out.

“The concern about the Single Farm Payments over the years was the conditions that were being imposed on them, not to be spreading slurry, not to be cutting hedges, you have all of that.

“When other countries join the EEC, the UK will be asked to put more money in and I am sure we will be getting less money back.

“There is also scare-mongering that if we do come out then the border will be closed and there will be customs posts. I don’t believe that’s right.

“I think there will be period for the legal loopholes and deals to get that sorted out.”

Ms Kee said it’s a matter for individual voters to decide, which we they cast their ballot in the referendum in June but she indicated she is a critical supporter of the European Union and remaining a part of it.

“Renegotiate Europe? Yes. We do need to renegotiate Europe. We do need to take the principles of free trade.

“As a party we respect that individuals will vote out but personally I will be voting to stay in.”