Northern Ireland prepares for momentous abortion, same-sex marriage changes

Northern Ireland prepares for momentous abortion, same-sex marriage changes
By Amanda Ferguson

BELFAST (Reuters) – Campaigners who fought for decades to end Northern Ireland’s same sex-marriage ban and restrictions on abortion prepared on Monday for a momentous change to the laws on both at the stroke of midnight.

Northern Ireland is the only part of the United Kingdom that does not allow same-sex marriage. Also, unlike England, Scotland and Wales, laws in Northern Ireland forbid abortion except where a mother’s life is at risk, bans that have been upheld by the region’s block of conservative politicians.

But an overwhelming vote by British lawmakers in July to compel the government in London to overhaul the laws if Belfast’s devolved executive had not been restored by Oct. 21 is set to kick in with little or no hope of politicians ending the local parliament’s near three-year hiatus.

Advocacy groups have planned a number of events on Monday to usher in the changes.

“We are not going to stick with the guilt and the shame any longer. Tomorrow the law changes in this place, and for the first time in Northern Ireland, women will be free,” Pro-choice campaigner Dawn Purvis told a public meeting in Belfast

“Free to choose if, when and how many children they will have in the care of health-care professionals. This is a very emotional day for many here.”

Abortion rights were long opposed in Northern Ireland by religious conservatives in both the Protestant community that supports continued British rule and the Catholic community that favours union with the traditionally Catholic Irish Republic.

Pressure has mounted, however, to change the Victorian-era laws in recent years, particularly after the neighbouring Irish Republic voted overwhelmingly last year to repeal a similarly restrictive ban, demonstrating a stark change in attitudes on an island once known for its religious conservatism.

If a new devolved government is not formed by midnight, abortion will be decriminalised, beginning a consultation on what the framework for services should look like, which is due to be finalised and approved by March 2020.

“This is a bad law being implemented through a bad process leading to bad consequences for both women and unborn children,” said Dawn McAvoy from the anti-abortion Both Lives Matter group.

Opinion has also changed on same-sex marriage. But despite opinion polls showing most in the region in favour, previous attempts to follow the Irish Republic in legalising it have been blocked by the socially conservative Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), using a special veto intended to prevent discrimination towards one community over another.

It will take the British parliament until mid-January to bring in the new legislation, setting up Feb. 14, 2020 – Valentine’s Day – as the first opportunity for same-sex couples to marry once they give the required 28-days’ notice.

(Reporting by Amanda Ferguson; Editing by Padraic Halpin, Peter Cooney and Giles Elgood)

Wildfires rage across Britain after hottest winter day on record

A fire is seen burning on Saddleworth Moor near the town of Diggle, Britain, February 27, 2019. REUTERS/Jon Super

By Jon Super

DIGGLE, England (Reuters) – Firefighters battled a series of wildfires in Britain on Wednesday, including a large moorland blaze outside the northern English city of Manchester, as the country experienced its warmest winter weather on record.

A fire started on Tuesday evening on Saddleworth Moor, an expanse of hills that is popular with hikers. It has since spread to an area about one-and-a-half square kilometers.

Large flames could be seen rising from the hillside as witnesses described “apocalyptic” scenes.

Laura Boocock, West Yorkshire Fire Service’s incident commander, told the BBC it was “one of the biggest moorland fires we’ve ever had to deal with”.

Five crews and two specialist moorland firefighting units were trying to contain the blaze. There have been no reports of any injuries.

The fire comes after Britain recorded its warmest winter day with a temperature of 21.2 Celsius in Kew Gardens in London.

Fire officials have not yet commented on what may have caused the blaze.

Last summer a fire on Saddleworth Moor, which required army assistance to tackle, took more than three weeks to extinguish.

Separately, on Tuesday a wildfire started in woodland made famous in AA Milne’s Winnie the Pooh stories. Ashdown Forest in East Sussex, the inspiration for Milne’s Hundred Acre Wood, suffered two fires that began within an hour of each other. The local fire service said that “unusual warm weather this week” meant that the ground was drier than usual and could lead to a greater risk of outdoor fires.

In Scotland, firefighters battled through the night to extinguish a large gorse fire on Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh.

(Writing by Andrew MacAskill; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

Prayers, tributes in Lockerbie mark 30 years since Pan Am bombing

People gather for the service and wreath-laying at the Memorial Garden in Dryfesdale Cemetery, on the morning of the 30th anniversary of the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 which exploded over the Scottish town on December 21, 1988, killing 259 passengers and crew and 11 residents on the ground, in Lockerbie, Scotland, Britain, December 21, 2018. Jane Barlow/Pool via REUTERS

LOCKERBIE, Scotland (Reuters) – A simple wreath-laying and prayer service in Lockerbie on Friday marked 30 years since a jumbo jet was blown up over the small Scottish town, killing 270 people.

Pan Am flight 103 exploded on its way from London to New York a few days before Christmas in 1988, killing all 259 people on board and another 11 on the ground. It is the deadliest ever militant attack in Britain.

Lockerbie, near the English border, with a population of just 4,000 people, has been synonymous with the tragedy ever since.

“Let us find hope and peace for all those who lost loved ones and who still carry the scars of this atrocity,” Jeff Brown, who directed the religious service, told those assembled.

The memorial service at Dryfesdale Cemetery was attended by Lord Lieutenant Fiona Armstrong, who conveyed a personal message from Queen Elizabeth.

“I send my prayers and good wishes to all those who will be marking this solemn anniversary,” she said.

Libyan intelligence officer Abdel Basset al-Megrahi was found guilty of the bombing, along with others who were never identified, and was jailed for life in 2001.

Megrahi was later released because he was suffering from cancer. He died in 2012.

(Writing by Elisabeth O’Leary; editing by Stephen Addison)

Cracks in Scottish nuclear reactor core prompt safety checks

FILE PHOTO: The Hunterston nuclear power station in West Kilbride, Scotland May 15, 2013. REUTERS/Suzanne Plunkett/File Photo

By Nina Chestney

LONDON (Reuters) – A reactor at EDF Energy’s Hunterston B nuclear power plant in Scotland will remain offline for additional safety checks after cracks were found in its core, Britain’s Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) said.

Ageing reactors generate just over 20 percent of Britain’s power but almost half of this capacity, including Hunterston, is due to go offline by 2025, prompting the government to plan new plants.

ONR was informed in March about keyway root cracks found during planned inspections of graphite bricks in the core of Reactor 3 at Hunterston.

Graphite bricks ensure reactors can be cooled and thousands of them are used in reactor cores.

“Inspections confirmed the expected presence of new keyway root cracks in the reactor core and also identified these happening at a slightly higher rate than modeled,” EDF Energy said in a statement.

The reactor has been offline since March and was due to come back online this month, but EDF Energy has extended the outage until later this year.

“While Hunterston B Reactor 3 could return to operation from the current outage, it will remain offline while the company works with the regulator to ensure that the longer term safety case reflects the findings of the recent inspections and includes the results obtained from other analysis and modeling,” it said.

Hunterston B in North Ayrshire, Scotland, has been generating electricity since 1976. Last year, it produced enough electricity for 1.8 million homes.

CRACKS

In 2015, EDF Energy said routine inspections had revealed cracks in part of the graphite core at a Hunterston B nuclear reactor. It said three of 6,000 bricks had cracked, something that had been expected to begin happening at that point in the power station’s life.

Two of EDF Energy’s nuclear power plants in Britain – Heysham 1 and Hartlepool – were offline for months in 2014 for inspections after a crack was found on a boiler spine at Heysham 1.

In Belgium, the regulator ordered production to be stopped at two nuclear reactors in 2012 after finding indications of tiny cracks in core tanks.

The cracks turned out to be particles of hydrogen that were trapped inside the tanks when they were made by a Dutch company in the early 1980s.

EDF said it expects Hunterston B’s Reactor 3 to return to service “before the end of 2018”. EDF Energy’s outage website shows an expected return date of Oct. 4.

Its Reactor 3 and Reactor 4 are both Advanced Gas-cooled Reactors. The outage will reduce its 2018 output by 3 terawatt hours, the company said.

EDF Energy said the operation of its other UK reactors was not affected.

(Reporting by Nina Chestney; Editing by Jason Neely and Mark Potter)

Snowstorms shut down Ireland, Britain calls in army for hospitals

People walk along the street through the snow near Sterling Castle, Scotland, Britain, March 1, 2018. REUTERS/Russell Cheyne

By Conor Humphries and Elisabeth O’Leary

DUBLIN/EDINBURGH (Reuters) – Snowstorms shut most of Ireland on Friday and forced Britain to call in the army to help battle some of the worst weather seen for nearly 30 years.

After a blast of Siberian cold dubbed “the beast from the east”, southern Britain and Ireland were battered by Storm Emma that arrived from the south and blocked roads, grounded planes and stopped trains.

Overnight blizzards left snow drifts up to three feet (90 cm) deep across Ireland and Scotland. The storm knocked out Ireland’s entire public transport network, closing its airports and leaving roads “extremely dangerous,” the government said.

Women take pictures of a statue of horses that is frozen over in the city centre of Dublin, Ireland, March 1, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne

Women take pictures of a statue of horses that is frozen over in the city centre of Dublin, Ireland, March 1, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne

At the peak of the storm, over 100,000 homes and businesses were left without power. On Friday the Irish stock exchange was shut, as were all schools and most government offices as a status Red weather alert remained across most of Ireland.

“The country needs to more or less stay in hibernation today,” deputy prime minister Simon Coveney told state broadcaster RTE. “Hopefully we can continue to get through these freak weather conditions without tragedy.”

In Britain, a seven-year-old girl was killed in the far southwestern county of Cornwall after a car crashed into a house in icy conditions, the BBC reported. Dozens of passengers were stranded on trains overnight in southern England.

The army was summoned to help rescue hundreds of drivers stuck in the snow and to transport National Health Service workers. Roads and schools were closed and many flights canceled across Britain.

Weather conditions in Scotland, which initially bore the brunt of the Siberian cold front, improved slightly, but the authorities warned people not to travel on Friday and during the weekend.

DIGGING OUT SNOWBOUND ROADS

Around 30 vehicles were stuck on a road near Aberdeen, the local council said, with many other roads closed due to snow drifts. Residents of the Scottish border area were asked to help dig out roads where a number of motorists were stranded. Care workers in rural areas were moving around in tractors.

“In the current bad weather, I want to say thank you to everyone going the extra mile to keep our country moving – and to keep us safe,” British Prime Minister Theresa May said.

Airbus said its Filton plant in Bristol, which helps make wings for passenger jets, was closed on Friday due to the heavy weather.

Audit firm PwC estimated that the cost of insurance claims by consumers and businesses in United Kingdom to date as a result of the severe weather was at least 15 million pounds, though it was too early to forecast the final bill.

“We have already had over 8,000 road accidents in the past three days and this could increase significantly with more snow set to fall today,” said Mohammad Khan, head of PwC’s general insurance business in Britain.

Social media across the British Isles was dominated by the weather, as some mocked the authorities’ struggles to manage the snowfall while others showed near misses on slippery roads and people abandoning their cars.

People stand and watch rough seas as Storm Emma makes landfall in Dublin, Ireland March 1, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne

People stand and watch rough seas as Storm Emma makes landfall in Dublin, Ireland March 1, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne

In Dublin, which last saw a major snowfall in 2010, videos posted on social media showed people used bathtubs and baking trays as improvised sleds. Panic-buying of bread left shelves empty across the capital.

Snow and icy conditions continued to cause disruption in southern Europe too. In the Liguria and Emilia-Romagna regions of northern Italy, the weather forced the closure of key sections of major highways and paralyzed rail traffic.

Train service between major cities such as Genoa and Milan and Genoa and Turin, the three points in Italy’s north known as the industrial triangle, was either suspended or suffered from long delays because of ice.

Traffic on secondary, regional roads was backed up after vehicles were diverted onto them from closed highways.

(Additional reporting by Alistair Smout and Carolyn Cohn in London, Tim Hepher in Paris and Philip Pullella in Rome; editing by Mark Heinrich)

In a letter to UK PM May, Scotland’s leader demands independence vote

Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon attends Parliament in Edinburgh, Scotland, Britain March 29, 2017. REUTERS/Russell Cheyne

LONDON (Reuters) – Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon wrote to Prime Minister Theresa May on Friday formally demanding that she allow a second referendum to be held on Scottish independence ahead of the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union.

The results of the June Brexit referendum called the country’s future into question because England and Wales voted to leave the EU but Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to stay.

On Tuesday, Scotland’s devolved parliament voted to hold a referendum on secession in 2018 or 2019, but the UK government in Westminster must give its approval before any such poll can he held.

May has already said it is not the right time for another referendum, having only just formally begun the complex two-year divorce talks between the UK and its 27 EU partners.

Scots rejected independence in a 2014 vote by 55 to 45 percent, but Sturgeon says the situation has changed because of Brexit.

In her letter, Sturgeon said she wished May well in negotiations with the EU, but added it seemed inevitable the outcome would leave the UK outside the European single market

“In these very changed circumstances, the people of Scotland must have the right to choose our own future – in short, to exercise our right of self determination,” she wrote.

“I am therefore writing to begin early discussions between our governments to agree an Order under section 30 of the Scotland Act 1998 that would enable a referendum to be legislated for by the Scottish Parliament.”

Sturgeon said she agreed with May that it would be wrong to hold a referendum immediately but that it should take place after the terms of Brexit were agreed and a future trade deal with the EU was struck, something May envisages before March 2019.

“There appears to be no rational reason for you to stand in the way of the will of the Scottish Parliament and I hope you will not do so,” Sturgeon said.

A spokesman for May said the UK government would respond in due course but ruled out discussions on a second secession vote.

“At this point, all our focus should be on our negotiations with the European Union, making sure we get the right deal for the whole of the UK,” the spokesman said.

(Reporting by Michael Holden and Kylie MacLellan; editing by Stephen Addison)

Scottish parliament suspends independence debate after London attack

A police car is parked outside the Scottish Parliament following suspension of the referendum debate in Edinburgh Scotland, Britain March 22, 2017. REUTERS/Russell Cheyne

EDINBURGH (Reuters) – Scotland’s devolved parliament suspended a planned vote on Wednesday to give its government a mandate to seek a new independence referendum after an attack on Britain’s Houses of Parliament in London which police said they were treating as a terrorist incident.

No date for the debate to resume was given.

The Scottish parliament issued a statement saying it would increase security measures, although no specific threat to Scotland had been detected.

London’s permission for a new Scottish referendum is needed because any legally binding vote on United Kingdom constitutional matters has to be authorized by the UK parliament.

Prime Minister Theresa May has not completely ruled out another Scottish independence vote but has vowed to fight for what she has called the “precious union” of the United Kingdom.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who argues that Scotland’s vote to keep its EU membership in last June’s referendum has been ignored in May’s Brexit arrangements so far, is seeking authority for a second referendum from the Scottish parliament, to be held in late 2018 or early 2019.

(Reporting by Elisabeth O’Leary; editing by Stephen Addison)

At odds over Brexit, UK nations hold ‘frustrating’ talks on common stance

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa

By Kylie MacLellan

LONDON (Reuters) – British Prime Minister Theresa May tried to persuade the leaders of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland on Monday to work with her government on a common Brexit negotiating position, but the Scottish leader dismissed the meeting as “deeply frustrating”.

May says that while the devolved governments of the UK’s three smaller nations should give their views on what the terms of Brexit should be, they must not undermine the UK’s strategy by seeking separate settlements with the EU.

“I don’t know what the UK’s negotiating position is because they can’t tell us,” Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said after talks at May’s Downing Street office.

“I can’t undermine something that doesn’t exist, it doesn’t appear to me at the moment that there is a UK negotiating strategy,” she told Sky News television.

While England and Wales voted for Brexit in a June referendum, Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to remain in the EU, setting the devolved governments in Edinburgh and Belfast on a collision course with the UK’s central government in London.

This could lead to a constitutional crisis, and potentially to Scottish independence and renewed political tensions in Northern Ireland.

At the meeting with Sturgeon and the Welsh and Northern Irish leaders, May proposed setting up a new body to give the three devolved governments, which have varying degrees of autonomy from London, a formal avenue to express their views.

“Working together, the nations of the United Kingdom will make a success of leaving the European Union — and we will further strengthen our unique and enduring union as we do so,” May said in a statement after the talks.

But Sturgeon struck a very different tone as she emerged.

“What I’m not prepared to do … is stand back and watch Scotland driven off a hard Brexit cliff edge because the consequences in lost jobs, lost investment and lower living standards are too serious,” she said.

CONFLICTING PRIORITIES

The British government, which has promised to kick off formal divorce talks with the EU before the end of March, has said it will negotiate a bespoke deal on behalf of the whole United Kingdom with the bloc’s other 27 members.

Sturgeon said she would make specific proposals over the next few weeks to keep Scotland in the single market even if the rest of the UK left, and that May had said she was prepared to listen to options.

“So far those words are not matched by substance or actions and that is what has got to change,” Sturgeon said.

Sturgeon, head of the Scottish National Party, has said her government is preparing for all possibilities, including independence from the UK, after Britain leaves the EU. She wants each of the UK’s four assemblies to get a vote on the proposed negotiating package.

In Northern Ireland, there are fears that Brexit could undermine a 1998 peace deal and lead to the reintroduction of unpopular and cumbersome controls on the border with the Republic of Ireland, an EU member.

Northern Ireland’s First Minister Arlene Foster said the devolved nations had to be at “the heart of the process” so that issues relevant to them could be tackled as they arose.

Welsh First Minister Carwyn Jones said it was difficult for the devolved administrations to influence the process when there was so much uncertainty over what the government was seeking.

Jones said he had argued very strongly for “full and unfettered access” to the EU’s single market, which is in doubt because EU leaders say it would require Britain to continue to accept EU freedom of movement rules.

One of the central planks of the pro-Brexit campaign was that exiting the EU would give Britain greater control over immigration and help reduce the numbers arriving in the country.

(Additional reporting by Elisabeth O’Leary, William James and Kate Holton; Editing by Estelle Shirbon and Robin Pomeroy)

Scottish nurse who had Ebola cleared of hiding symptoms

Pauline Cafferkey a nurse who volunteered volunteered to treat Ebola patients in West Africa, then survived the disease herself, leaves a hearing after being cleared of misconduct charges in Edinburgh, Scotland

EDINBURGH (Reuters) – A Scottish nurse who contracted Ebola while caring for patients in Sierra Leone was cleared on Wednesday of allegations that she had put the public at risk by hiding the fact that she had a raised temperature when she returned to Britain.

Pauline Cafferkey, 40, was infected in 2014, during an outbreak of the highly contagious disease that killed more than 11,300 people in three West African countries.

The Nursing and Midwifery Council, which regulates the professions in Britain, held a two-day hearing in Edinburgh to investigate allegations that Cafferkey had allowed a wrong temperature to be recorded at London’s Heathrow Airport on her return.

She was also accused of failing to flag up her true temperature to medical staff at a screening area in the airport.

The panel dismissed both charges of professional misconduct after hearing that she had been impaired by illness as she went through the screening area, described in evidence as chaotic and under-staffed.

“Throughout her career Pauline has been motivated by a genuine desire to help other people even if this meant putting her own life at risk. She would never have knowingly put anyone in danger,” her lawyer, Joyce Cullen, told reporters.

Having been given the green light to leave the screening area and fly onwards to Glasgow, Cafferkey then became extremely unwell and was flown back to London to be treated in a special isolation unit at the Royal Free Hospital.

She spent close to a month there before she was discharged. She has continued to suffer from ill health linked to the consequences of her Ebola infection and was twice hospitalized again.

Cullen told reporters after the end of the disciplinary hearing that it had been upsetting and stressful for Cafferkey, who would now continue with her nursing career in Scotland.

(Reporting by Russell Cheyne in Edinburgh and Estelle Shirbon in London; editing by Michael Holden)

Anti-Christianists Seek To Remove Creationism From Scottish Schools

An anti-Christian organization is attempting to remove the teaching of creation from schools in Scotland.

The Scottish Secular Society claims their goal is to “support and further the cause of secularism” and was founded by Garry Otton, who has openly said he has a deep hatred for Christianity.

The group has filed a petition with the Scottish Parliament to prohibit any teaching of anything that conflicts with evolution.

“Evolution, meaning the common descent of living things and their change over time, is, and has been for generations, the unifying concept of the life sciences,” the petition claims. “The deep time necessary for this evolution had been recognized by Scottish geologists over a century earlier.”

David Robertson of the St. Peter’s Free Church, says that SSS is desiring to “undermine and attack Christianity in pursuit of their sectarian and bigoted anti-religious beliefs.”