Sinn Fein’s internal difficulties have worsened following a combative display by the party leadership at a weekend conference saw the party adopt a hardline pro-abortion stance, including a ban on dissent on the issue by its elected representatives.
Over the past 48 hours, a number of party members have publicly resigned from the party, the most high profile of whom to date is Offaly TD Carol Nolan. Ms Nolan said this afternoon that she feels she “no longer has a place” in a party which she said “doesn’t recognise or show genuine respect for the pro-life views of members”.
Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald described Ms Nolan’s decision to resign as “disappointing but not surprising.”
At the weekend’s annual Ard Fheis [conference], the party leadership headed by Ms McDonald and deputy Michelle O’Neill pivoted the party to a more fiscally conservative and socially liberal agenda. The party has made clear it hopes the change will make it easier to enter into a Dublin government, most likely in coalition with Fine Gael.
The conference comes weeks after a bruising referendum campaign in the 26 Counties saw a constitutional ban on abortion lifted by a margin of 2-1. Legislation to introduce abortion on request in the first three months of pregnancy is being prepared by the Fine Gael-led minority government, and still faces a tricky passage through the Dublin parliament.
Sinn Fein’s recent transition to a pro-choice stance has been deeply polarising. Although it has been at pains to point to large numbers of new members, including many young women, hundreds of older and more traditionally-minded members stayed away from the party conference this year, while others engaged in a protest outside the venue.
Inside, the party leadership drove home the message that dissent could not be tolerated. There was no surprise, therefore, when Ms Nolan, one of the party’s most well known pro-life campaigners, confirmed her resignation his afternoon. She had been suspended from the party earlier this summer following a disagreement over the 8th amendment referendum.
Ms Nolan, who won a breakthrough Sinn Fein seat in the Offaly-North Tipperary constituency in 2016, said she was disappointed that the party’s delegates voted against the motion to allow members to have a conscience vote on the issue of abortion.
“I want to thank all of the 24 cumainn who put forward motions on the need for a conscience vote on the abortion issue,” she said.
“I feel that it is unethical to force TDs who are strongly opposed to abortion to vote against their conscience. Every TD in Leinster House is directly responsible for the laws that they enact, if a TD votes for abortion they are responsible for all abortions that happen in this state.
“I do not want to have any hand, act or part in bringing about the end to the life of an unborn child, the most vulnerable in our society.”
Speaking in response, Ms McDonald said she had regretted the resignation.
“Sinn Fein made every effort to give its members space and latitude to articulate a position contrary to the party’s position in the recent referendum campaign on Repeal of the 8th Amendment,” she said.
“The people have spoken on this issue. The Sinn Fein Ard Fheis has democratically agreed the party’s position to support the forthcoming leglislation.”