Sinn Féin delegates last night overwhelmingly voted down a motion which would have given its members a free vote on the issue of abortion.
Less than a week after returning from a six-month ban for voting against last July’s Protection of Life during Pregnancy Bill, pro-life TD Peadar Tóibín once again found himself pitted against Mary Lou McDonald, the deputy leader, who spoke on behalf of the Ard Chomhairle.
The Meath West TD appealed to party members to support the conscience vote to “create space for people on both sides of the debate.” He said allowing members to vote with their conscience received substantial grassroots support and he warned in years to come that younger politicians “coming up are less likely to leave their consciences at the door”.
Ms McDonald said the motion should be defeated because as a party, Sinn Féin had to debate issues but then take policy positions. She said Sinn Féin could not speak out of both sides of its mouth as it could not give freedom of conscience unless it was prepared to grant it on a wide range of issues.
But a number of speakers warned there was growing disillusionment with Sinn Féin’s stance on abortion.
Neil O’ Hanlon from Sligo said that after years of campaigning, doors that took a long time to open had been closed in his face. He said he did not want to have to hide his pro-life views or “lose comrades” but if Sinn Féin did not change its stance, he and hundreds more could not stay in the party.
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