Sinn Fein TD Peadar Toibin has been suspended from the party for six months in a move which could lead to him contesting his seat as an independent candidate in the next election.
The party’s spokesperson on rural development, arts and the Gaeltacht was disciplined by the leadership for voting against legislation to provide for abortion in the 26 Counties.
Sinn Fein whip Aengus O’Snodaigh said all party TDs were told to support the legislation in the Dublin parliament. He said the suspension would take effect immediately.
The move follows on from a decision to adopt a hardline pro-abortion stance at the party’s most recent Ard Fheis [annual conference] in !!. It meant that party representatives were banned from voting according to their conscience, a major u-turn for a party which was described as pro-life by the late leader Martin McGuinness just over three years ago.
Last month, Peadar Toibin defied the ban, which Sinn Fein leadership said was a “serious breach” of the party’s rules.
There is now a possibility that he may not be able to run as a Sinn Fein candidate if there is an election in the next six months. That could happen if Fine Gael and Fianna Fail do not reach a new deal on continuing the Fine Gael minority government, which depends on Fianna Fail support.
In a statement, Mr Toibin noted the abortion bill before the Dail states that abortion is ‘a medical procedure which is intended to end the life of a foetus’.
Despite a vote in May to repeal the Eighth Amendment of the 26 Counties constitution, which prohibited abortion except in cases where the mother’s life is endangered, Mr Toibin estimated that over half of voters in the 26 Counties do not support abortion on demand, which the new legislation provides for.
“When TDs vote in the Dail they are individually and personally responsible for the outcomes of the laws they vote for,” he said. “This is a sobering responsibility and I could not in conscience vote for the bill.”
He added: “I have been a member of Sinn Fein for 21 years. From a young age I have been inspired by the selfless sacrifice of generations of republicans from Wolfe Tone to Bobby Sands. I joined Sinn Fein when it was not easy to join Sinn Fein. In the intervening years, I have poured all my energy into building a movement to achieve a united Ireland and economic justice.”
He said it would be hard to work towards these aims “if I am being prevented from paying a full role in the Sinn Fein team”, adding he will give serious consideration to his suspension in the coming week.
He also said voters who do not agree with the measures in the Bill should be represented in the Dublin parliament, adding that there were “few issues as contentious as abortion”.
“It is also important to note that the 34 per cent of the population that voted to retain the Eighth Amendment plus the 20 per cent of Yes voters who don’t agree with this Bill should have a voice in the Oireachtas. It is reasonable that TDs should give voice to the opposing views on Simon Harris’s abortion Bill in roughly the proportion that exists in society. There is no better way to push voters to the extreme than to deny them a legitimate democratic voice.”
Dublin South Central TD Aengus O Snodaigh said the Abortion Bill “is in line with Sinn Fein’s policy position as agreed democratically at our ardfheis”.
“The position has also been overwhelmingly endorsed by the people in May of this year. The party’s position on this legislation is to support it.
“The whip was in place and all TDs were instructed to be present and to vote for the legislation. Peadar Toibin’s decision to vote against the legislation is a serious breach of the party’s rules and he has now been suspended for a period of six months.”