Sinn Fein postpones abortion debate until after poll

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Sinn Fein has suspended one of its TDs, Offaly TD Carol Nolan, after she voted against holding a referendum to remove a constitutional ban on abortion this week.

Aengus O’Snodaigh, the Sinn Fein Whip, told Ms Nolan (pictured) that she would be suspended from the party for three months. Party leader Mary Lou McDonald said: “Carol is a valued colleague and I very much regret this turn of events. However, as legislators we have a responsibility to vote as we are mandated by long standing Sinn Fein policy, a policy which we strongly believe is in the best interests of women.”

The Eighth amendment to the Irish constitution, passed in 1983, recognises a right to life of the unbord child equally with that of the mother. As a result, hundreds of Irish women travel to England for an abortion every year. The restriction has been blamed for a number of tragic cases, including the 2012 death from septic shock of Indian woman Savita Halappanavar.

Recently named to replace Gerry Adams as leader, Mary Lou McDonald has moved to position Sinn Fein as pro-woman and pro-choice and has vowed to crack down on any dissent against the party’s position on the referendum.

Sinn Fein was the only party in the Dublin parliament to refuse its TDs the right to vote in line with their conscience on the issue. A total of 110 TDs voted to move the Thirty-Sixth Amendment of the Constitution Bill 2018 to Committee stage, while 32 were against it. Half of the Fianna Fail TDs voted against allowing any referendum on the Eighth Amendment.

Ms McDonald has compared opposition to abortion to opposition to divorce and contraception. She said that in the past there had been “a fair amount of Catholic dogma turned into law and it didn’t work well for society”.

She insisted she has a “duty to lead” on abortion, “because I understand fully that as a political leader, as a legislator in a republic, and indeed in a new Ireland, you cannot legislate and you must not legislate in accordance with one theological view.”

However, she backed away this week from calling a special conference to decide the party’s policy. She said the meeting due to take place on 15 and 16 June, “will happen in good time for Sinn Fein to participate in the legislative process”.

Thousands of pro- and anti-abortion activists took part in rival marches through Dublin earlier this month. The Sinn Fein leadership supported the pro-abortion march, while Ms Nolan, another prominent Sinn Fein opponent of abortion, Peadar Toibin, and a number of Sinn Fein councillors took part in the anti-abortion march alongside a republican group called ‘Cherish all the Children Equally’.

Ms Nolan said she is unconcerned about the effect her stance against party policy may have on her career. “Come what may. I am not worried about what may face me,” she said.

Another to take part in the march was Francie Brolly, a former member of the Stormont assembly, who resigned from the party earlier this year in protest at its abortion policy.

He accused the party leadership of “hedging their bets” by postponing a planned conference and said a number of senior figures in the party “are very uneasy about the direction the party is going on abortion”.

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