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Major side-effect of NI Assembly scandal

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Northern Ireland, elections, domestic violence, abortion, childcare strategyThe collapse of Northern Ireland’s Executive and Assembly has direct, serious consequences for women.

By Kellie Turtle, Women’s Sector Lobbyist, Women’s Resource and Development Agency (WRDA).

They say ‘a week is a long time in politics’. Well, having submitted WRDA’s response to the Programme for Government consultation in late December I took 3 weeks off and came back on the day that the Executive and Assembly was rocked by the resignation of the Deputy First Minister.

Suddenly everything had changed.

There is no doubt that the scandal connected to the running of the Renewable Heat Incentive Scheme had to be tackled as the latest in a series of questions surrounding the accountability of some of our Executive parties.

In a climate where women are suffering disproportionately from an austerity agenda and women’s organisations are facing unprecedented funding cuts, it is vital that our public money is put to its intended use, building a society that works for everyone including the most vulnerable.

However, the collapse of the Executive and Assembly has consequences for women as it puts on hold the development of important law and policy.

For example, progress made through the Department of Justice on creating a domestic violence offence, including ground-breaking work on coercive control, is now left hanging in the balance.

Calls from women’s organisations to the Minister of Education to publish the long-overdue Childcare Strategy and assign a budget will have to wait until after the establishment of a new Executive.

Likewise our questions about the intention of the Minister for Communities regarding the now out of date Gender Equality Strategy will remain unanswered.

The outcome of the working group on fatal foetal abnormality will remain a mystery and the private members bill introduced by MLA David Ford to decriminalise abortions where women have received a fatal diagnosis for their pregnancy is off the table.

The funding of innovative work under the Fresh Start Agreement, including a work stream to support women in communities experiencing paramilitary violence, is now uncertain.

If we want to see these issues progressed when the political institutions are re-established then we should ensure that all candidates seeking our votes know what we expect of them in terms of women’s rights and equality.

The 2016 Women’s Manifesto provides an excellent resource for engagement with political parties on the campaign trail.

Find out how committed they are to prioritising your rights before you give them your vote.

I hope that the outcome of all the current political upheaval will be an Executive and Assembly that is more accountable for how it spends our money and how it respects and protects our rights.

Don’t forget to register to vote in Northern Ireland Assembly’s election on 2 March. Registration deadline 14 February. Click here to register.

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