Republicans torn on abortion issue


Divisions among republicans on the issue of abortion have become painfully exposed by the current debate on the referendum to repeal the Eighth Amendment of the 26 County constitution.

Sinn Fein has launched its campaign to repeal the Amendment, which guarantees equal tratment for the right to life of the mother and unborn. The party has seen an increase in support in recent weeks and now looks set to support a law to make abortion freely available in the first three months of pregnancy.

Ahead of a special Sinn Fein party conference which is to take place in June to decide abortion policy, there has been a fractious debate and claims of a purge against the party’s more traditional, church-going supporters.

A new republican group called ‘Cherish All the Children Equally’ held a rally on Tuesday outside the GPO on the 102nd anniversary of the Easter Rising. It argued that the ideals of the Proclamation extend to protecting the life of the unborn.

Several speakers addressed the event. Mairead Hughes, Chair of ‘Cherish all the Children Equally’, recalled that “102 years ago nationalists, republicans, trade unionists, feminists, doctors, poets and artists authored and read aloud the Proclamation of the Irish Republic. This proclamation set forth a progressive vision for a new independent Ireland.

“At the heart of the Proclamation is the objective to ‘cherish all the children of the nation equally’. This objective is also at the heart of our Human Rights Campaign,” she said.

Former Sinn Fein Councillor Anne Brolly from South Derry, condemned a recent court ruling that Irish citizens in the North of Ireland could not vote on “the most important human rights debate of our generation”.

She called on her “fellow Irish Citizens in the 26 counties” to stand up for their northern comrades and friends and vote No. “The majority of nationalists in the north are prolife. The majority of all citizens in the north are prolife. We urge you not to be silent in this key campaign.”

Sinn Fein Deputy Peadar Toibin said abortion discriminates. “By definition Abortion means inequality of outcome - one baby makes it to term and another baby doesn’t.”

A grand-niece of Proclamation signatory Eamonn Ceannt, Judy Ceannt, a doctor from Carrick-on-Shannon, spoke of the “pain” experienced by the unborn during abortion.

“The Taoiseach said on Saturday that it is time to put compassion at the centre of our laws by voting Yes in the upcoming referendum. What is compassionate about killing the youngest, most vulnerable members of our society?” she asked.

“Late abortions are gruesome and painful to the baby, and even at 12 weeks, during a surgical abortion you can see on the ultrasound that the baby is in distress until it dies.”

The displeasure with Sinn Fein’s hardline stance on the policy shift was voiced by many of those at the event. Party leader Mary Lou McDonald has disciplined Sinn Fein representaives, including TD Carol Nolan, for speaking out against the party line on the issue. Proinsias O Chonarain was a former member of the party and feels their position is “a disgrace”.

“Sinn Fein, allegedly a republican party, is an absolute disgrace,” he says.

“They are going to murder our future generations after fighting for generations to protect the Irish people. Now they’re in a situation where they’re going to murder our future generations and have no compulsion about it.

“I’m an ex-Sinn Fein member and I’ll never ever give them the time of day again in my life. Pearse and Connolly and the men and women of 1916 died for all of us. They didn’t die for a certain section.”

Just 48 hours later and a few streets away, Sinn Fein formally launched its referendum campaign to end Ireland’s ban on abortion.

Bolstered by opinion polls which show a majority supports the referendum to give parliament the power to legislate for abortion, Ms McDonald called on the Dublin government to ensure a bill is introduced by early autumn to prevent the matter becoming ‘derailed’ by a general election.

She said allowing for open access to abortions up to the 12th week of pregnancy was essential to deal with cases of rape, incest and fatal foetal abnormalities.

Speaking at the event in Temple Bar, Ms McDonald called on the “men and women of Ireland” to vote Yes on 25 May.

“We may not know all of the names... but what we do know is that women that become pregnant as a result of rape are being forced to travel,” she said, adding that as a political leader she believes she has a “duty” to act.

McDonald said that as a mother, she wants her children to grow up in a society that does not “punish” women going through a traumatic experience.

“I am the mother of two children, including a teenage daughter, and I want them to grow up in a compassionate, open and caring Ireland, an Ireland that doesn’t punish tragedy, an Ireland that doesn’t turn its back on its women and girls. I want my daughter and her friends to live in an Ireland where they can make decisions about their own healthcare,” she said.

She said any new law should not be rushed through, but that there should be no attempt to delay or set the matter aside for political motives. “This issue has been consistently delayed, ignored, set aside and that era is now over,” she declared.

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