John Larkin abortion views 'sound' says pro-life MLA Jim Wells

John Larkin John Larkin's views on abortion were described as sound

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An assembly pro-life group has described the attorney general's views on abortion as "sound".

A document obtained by the BBC also shows that John Larkin was involved in advising the executive on abortion guidelines.

It quotes him as having "taken control".

Mr Larkin's involvement is detailed in a set of minutes from an all-party assembly group that opposes relaxing the law on abortion.

The All Party Pro Life Group includes MLAs from the DUP including the next health minister Jim Wells and his colleague Mervyn Storey.

The group is chaired by Foyle SDLP MLA Pat Ramsey and includes the North Belfast MLA Alban Maginess, Chris Lyttle of the Alliance Party, Danny Kennedy of the UUP and the TUV leader Jim Allister.

Anti-abortion campaigner Bernie Smyth from the Precious Life group and members of the Christian Institute and Society of the Protection of the Unborn Child (SPUC) also attend group meetings at Parliament Buildings.

At a meeting in January 2012, members discussed the progress of Department of Health guidelines on abortion.

The minutes of that meeting state: "Jim Wells suggested that there had been a written question put forward about the progress of the DHSSPS guideline and had met trust officials.

"In particular the new Attorney General Mr Larkin had taken control and his views on abortion were sound."

The BBC contacted Mr Wells and the SDLP's Mr Ramsey, who chairs the group, but neither was available to comment.

A spokesman for the attorney general's office told the BBC: "We cannot offer a comment on the minutes of a meeting at which the attorney was not present nor provided any input.

"The issues of the abortion guidelines, following the Court of Appeal judgment, are a matter for the department.

"As you know there is a long standing convention that whether or not the attorney's advice has been sought and the content of his advice, if given, cannot be disclosed."

Jim Wells Jim Wells is a member of the All Party Pro Life Group

However the disclosure of the minutes from the Stormont pro-life group has prompted further comment about Mr Larkin's role in the abortion debate.

Alliance Party MLA Stewart Dickson said the release of the minutes raised questions.

He told the BBC: "It adds to my concerns that John Larkin is too close to this issue to provide clear advice."

The development comes after the attorney general offered to assist in the scrutiny of the newly opened Marie Stopes clinic in Belfast is operating within the law on abortion in Northern Ireland.

Last week it was also revealed that he once described destroying a highly disabled child in the womb as akin to "putting a bullet in the back of the head of the child two days after it's born".

He made the comments in May 2008 before he became attorney general in a panel discussion on the BBC Radio Ulster Sunday Sequence programme.

Sinn Fein's Caitriona Ruane said the remarks were "wholly inappropriate".

The Ulster Unionist Party's justice spokesman Tom Elliott said the committee still had to decide what assistance they wanted from Mr Larkin.

"The view of the Ulster Unionist Party is that we would certainly be opposed to an attempt by the Attorney General to take control of a Committee Inquiry."

An editorial in the Guardian newspaper on 26 October also examines Mr Larkin's involvement in the abortion debate.

It says "he should stop stirring the Marie Stopes pot and stop controversialising his office in this way".

The editorial continued that "if he intervenes again on the matter his position as chief legal adviser is surely untenable ".

In the coming weeks Mr Larkin is expected to appear before the justice committee at Stormont.

Whether the committee can go further by seeking additional help from Mr Larkin is under discussion.

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