Press Releases

Press Release on 30th March Conference, “The Future of Conscience in an Age of Intolerance”

The challenge of being faithful to your conscience in a climate of illiberal ‘tolerance’ will be the focus of a conference in Belfast on Saturday organised by by The Iona Institute NI.

Iona NI Spokeswoman Tracy Harkin states; “Freedom of conscience has become a major issue of our time. The right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion are the hallmark of any genuinely pluralist and democratic society.

Freedom of conscience is protected as a fundamental human right under the European convention on human rights, Yet recent examples in Ireland, the UK, and other countries show concerted attempts are underway to eradicate this right. Medical professionals, teachers, business owners, and parents have all been impacted.

Medical professionals in particular are experiencing increasing discrimination in the workplace because of their beliefs. The Irish Government’s recent insistence that the majority of GPs who conscientiously object to abortion will be forced to refer to another doctor, has led to major discontent among the Irish medical profession.

In Sweden Ellinor Grimmark, a midwife who refused to carry out abortions, has been forced to take her case to the European Court of Human Rights as she is unable to get work in a public hospital- even though Sweden is a country with a shortage of midwives.

In the UK Muslim, Christian, and other concerned parents are being told they cannot withdraw their children from Government-sponsored school programmes which teach young children that gender is not biologically given but a matter of choice.

Last week Catholic media commentator Caroline Farrow was instructed by police to present herself for questioning after being reported for using the wrong pronoun to describe a transgender girl on twitter.

Closer to home, the McArthur family had to endure a costly, four-and-a-half-year legal battle when their bakery politely refused to ice a cake with a political slogan, and the case against them was backed by the equality commission.

Whatever your views on the particular morality of abortion, euthanasia, gay marriage or gender ideology, surely freedom of conscience should be explicitly protected in law and practice.

In the absence of such protections there is a danger that simply expressing the Judeo-Christian understanding of marriage and human sexuality, for example, could become a hate crime.

Ironically we are in danger of becoming an intolerant, illiberal society in the name of tolerance!”

Against this background, Saturday’s conference, entitled ‘The Future of Conscience in an Age of Intolerance’, will help explore this hugely important issue.  Iona NI is delighted to welcome an expert line-up of speakers.

These include legal expert and member of the House of Lords, Nuala O’Loan DBE, who is currently campaigning for conscience rights through her sponsorship of a parliamentary bill which seeks to protect the freedom of conscience of medical professionals.

Dr Helen Watt is a Senior Research Fellow at the Anscombe Bioethics Centre in Oxford whose publications and research interests include reproductive ethics, action theory and issues of cooperation and conscientious objection.

Benedict Ó Floinn, Senior Counsel and trial advocate, has been a prominent participant in the various debates to amend the Irish Constitution and has appeared in a wide range of landmark cases involving human rights and constitutional provisions.

David Smyth is a former solicitor who leads on public policy for the Evangelical Alliance NI and represents them on a range of government, civic and charitable forums.

The event will take place in the Wellington Park Hotel Belfast on Saturday 30th March from 10 -1.30pm .Speakers are available for interviews. For all media inquiries email or call Tracy Harkin at 07531149891


Press Releases

Calls for complete decriminalisation of Northern Ireland’s abortion law are reckless and extreme.


Tracy Harkin, spokesperson for the Iona Institute NI, states “The pro choice lobby’s call for complete decriminalisation of abortion in Northern Ireland is radical, reckless and chilling in the extreme. These calls have intensified this week as the Women and Equalities Commission begin their consultation into NI abortion law. Any legitimate consultation must not white wash the dire consequences this radical move would have.” She added, “Complete decriminalisation would make the unborn child in law a non-person with no legal protection throughout any stage of pregnancy. Decriminalisation would mean no protection against discrimination on grounds of disability or sex-selective abortion, no guidelines regarding pain relief for babies enduring late-term abortions, and no humane burial rights for babies’ remains.”

Tracy continues “Babies that may survive late-term abortions could legally be left to die. The pro choice lobby continually ignore these disturbing realities in pursuit of a radical ideology of ‘choice’ that has gotten completely out of control. If this consultation and the media reporting is to have any shred of balance over the next few days it would do well to ask pro choice advocates how on earth stripping the unborn child of all legal protections can be defended,” she said.

“As everyone knows laws have penalties because they seek to protect something or someone that is worth protecting. If Amnesty and others have their way it would mean that for the first time in Northern Ireland the offspring of wildlife would have more protection than human beings growing and kicking in their mother’s womb.” She added, “Surely a culture which upholds the life, health, and dignity of both mothers and their preborn babies is worth protecting.”

“The people of Northern Ireland have no desire for such an extreme measure. Tackling the socio-economic pressures on vulnerable pregnant women which propel most towards the tragedy of abortion should be our real focus.”


Press Releases

Press Release on Ashers Judgement

Today’s landmark supreme court case is a win for everyone

The Iona Institute NI welcomes the unanimous decision by the UK supreme court which today ruled that the McArthur family did not discriminate against a gay rights activist in politely refusing to ice a cake with the slogan ‘support gay marriage’.

According to Tracy Harkin, spokesperon for the Iona Institute NI, “This case pursued  by the equality commission which cost N.Ireland taxpayers £360,000, was  deliberately framed  as an LGBT rights issue”.

“As the judgement today  clearly  highlighted however, the  McArthurs’ objection was not to Mr Lee himself, but to being required to write a political slogan”.

“The McArthurs have maintained all along that they did not refuse to serve Mr Lee because he was gay or because he supported gay marriage.Their objection was to supply a cake iced with a message with which they profoundly disagreed”.

“The rights to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion are the hallmark of any genuinely  pluralist and democratic society.No one should ever be forced to express a political opinion they disagree with”.

“We hope this incredibly important ruling will not only send a clear message regarding the misuse of equality law but importantly help to protect against the spectre of compelled speech in N.I. and throughout the UK”.


For further info contact

Tracy Harkin

Office: 028 92 646861

Mobile: 07531149891


Blog, News, Press Releases, Uncategorized

Westminster MPs in massive abortion push in NI

Iona Institute NI is deeply saddened that a letter has been sent by Stella Creasey to Amber Rudd, the minister for women and equalities and the home office, on behalf of over 130 MPs calling on the minster to ensure comprehensive access to abortion for women in Northern Ireland. We note the letter cites frequently the recent CEDAW report 23/2/18 condemning NI’s pro-life laws as violating the human rights of women.

As spokeswoman Tracy Harkin says, not a single NI MP has signed this letter. At a time when the news is overflowing with reports on talks to get the devolved institutions up and running again, what we have here are a number of non-local MPs proposing to legislate for NI without the consent of our own MPs. It is highly ironic that these MPs would seek to legislate for NI in this respect.

Tracy continues, there is no international treaty, convention, or law which stipulates that abortion is a human right. The authors of the letter to the Rt Hon Rudd note on several occasions that their stance is based on CEDAW’s flawed interpretation of international human rights law, but not in fact on any actual concrete law or legislative framework that is currently in place. Effectively what we have are a number of pro-abortion MPs interpreting international law to suit an agenda which would seek to bring abortion into NI without the consent of our own MPs.

The authors of the letter emphasise the criminal status of abortion here in NI and they urge its decriminalisation. But they themselves wish to see the 1967 abortion act extended to NI, yet this act itself treats abortions carried out outside of the terms of this act as a criminal matter, and thus even here it is recognised that abortion is a practice which must be regulated by criminal law. The only difference then between NI and the rest of the UK is that we in NI have a much more positive regulation of abortion with our pro-life laws than does the rest of the UK. Such pro-life laws have successfully led to the saving of at least 100,000 of our citizens. By contrast, 1 in 5 healthy pregnancies in the rest of the UK end in abortion, not to mention the high percentage of terminations performed where a disability has been detected.

Tracy further adds, it is particularly sad that this letter has emerged on international women’s day. A day in which we should be rejoicing at the presence of women in leadership roles and positions of responsibility in our society. This is especially pertinent to us here in NI where our pro-life laws have saved the lives of at least 100,000 citizens, and in the Island of Ireland in general which is recognised internationally as one of the safest places in the world in which to be pregnant. Unfortunately, our culture of caring for the lives of both mother and baby are under considerable attack. We rejoice however in the leadership role women of all ages continue to play in the pro-life movement north and south. On this international women’s day we will continue to reject abortion as a solution to any crisis, and embrace a truly compassionate and progressive culture in which both lives are recognised, protected, and respected in law and practice

We would urge our NI MPs to speak strongly and proudly in defence of our pro-life laws, and not to be intimidated by those who would push their interpretation of human rights laws as the standard by which they are to be implemented.

News, Press Releases

It’s Valentine’s Day and ‘Love is in The Air’ – but many couples in NI are too poor to tie the knot

New paper highlights huge marriage gap between social classes

60 pc of upper professional workers are married but less than a third of unskilled workers

Except for Christmas Day, Valentine’s Day is the most popular date for couples to get engaged.

But many couples in Northern Ireland are just too poor to tie the knot, according to a new report by The Iona Institute.

Entitled ‘Mind the Gap: Marriage and Family by Social Class in Northern Ireland’, the report shows that for many of the more socially disadvantaged in Northern Ireland the dream of walking down the aisle will never become a reality.

The figures, derived from the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA) show that 60.7% of upper professional workers (‘Social Class A’) aged 18-49 are married, compared with just 32.7% of unskilled or elementary workers (‘Social Class I’).

Workers in professional occupations are almost twice as likely as unskilled workers to be married.

The huge discrepancy indicates that there are formidable social impediments to marrying if you are from a socially disadvantaged group. The report also shows that with one exception (plant and machine operatives (‘Social Class H’), the likelihood of being married becomes progressively less as we move down the social scale.

Commenting on the figures, Tracy Harkin of the Iona Institute said: “These impediments need to be fully explored and, where possible, removed. Anyone who believes in the importance of marriage should be deeply concerned about these figures. Why is it that the better off a person is, the more likely they are to be married, and the less well-off they are, the less likely they are to be married? Social disadvantage clearly diminishes a person’s chances of marrying and not marrying in turn increases the odds of remaining socially disadvantaged. It is a vicious circle and it is one that obviously affects children as well.

“A US study* by one of that country’s most esteemed social scientists has shown that if Americans married at the same rate as in 1970, rates of poverty in that country would diminish by between 20% and 30%.”

Tracy continued: “A key factor driving down the odds of marrying for those who are most socially disadvantaged is poorly paid insecure jobs. People are less likely to marry if they feel financially insecure. There are also disincentives to marry built into the social welfare system. It can be more financially advantageous for two people on social welfare to remain single than to marry.

“We ought to be able to agree that the big marriage divide which exists between the social classes is a matter of grave concern, something that must be tackled by our politicians, other policy-makers and opinion-formers.

Tracy Harkin concluded: “This is an issue of justice and of equality and cries out for public debate that will, hopefully, help us all to work to close the marriage gap between the poor and the better off in Northern Ireland”.

* Brooking Institute


Notes to editors

The report entitled “Mind the Gap: Marriage and Family by Social Class in Northern Ireland” by The Iona Institute is attached as a pdf.

[PDF Download] Mind the Gap: Marriage and Family by Social Class in Northern Ireland

The report focuses on the age group 18-49 because this is the age group in which people start their families.

The Iona Institute is a Christian advocacy group and research body.

Contact details

Tracy Harkin is available for interview:

Contact Tracy on 0753 1149891