Fiachra Ó Cionnaith, Political Reporter, Derry
Sinn Féin's general election campaign will include calls for abortion to be allowed in fatal foetal abnormality cases and for the repeal of the eight amendment after the issues were backed at its Ard Fhéis today.
The opposition party took the positions after a lengthy hour-long debate on the issue which included calls from senior personnel to support the moves, and as pro-life campaigners said allowing the "satanist" policies will be "political suicide".
Speaking before the motions were passed, health spokesperson Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin has said it is "long since time" his party shores up the gap in its policies to formally back abortions in the cases of fatal foetal abnormality.
The Cavan-Monaghan TD said delegates should support the motion to allow more options for couples who have been told their pregnancy is almost certain to be "incompatible with life", adding it is time "we accept the tragedy" for what it is.
Mr O Caoláin stressed the motion is "not prescriptive, rather it offers full support whatever the decision taken" and that party members need to back it to ensure Irish women are not criminalised for making a choice in a difficult situation.
Deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald and Northern Ireland first minister Martin McGuinness also backed the policy - which was not passed unanimously.
They were further supported by a delegate who told the Ard Fhéis about his son Christopher, who was born in 1986 with anencephaly, an extremely serious condition involving a child being born without large parts of its brain and skull.
The man said he was against abortion until this occurred, and asked delegates "to put yourself in this position, end this unjust suffering for couples in Ireland".
The sudden rush for Sinn Féin to clarify its position on fatal foetal abnormalities and the wider abortion issue comes after the party was last month unable to vote on Independent TD Clare Daly bill on the issue as it had no official policy - a matter that has caused significant embarrassment to the party a year out from a general election.
It had been expected that Sinn Féin pro-life TD Peadar Toibin would speak against both motions.
However, despite being among two dozen people lining up to speak to the floor on the matters, he ultimately did not reach the stage after taking a phone call while in the queue and walking away.
Among the delegates who did speak against the motions was Cork member Sean O Tuama, who insisted while it is "impossible" to know what will happen in a fatal foetal case after birth, it is clear "abortion ends the life of a baby prior to birth".
Mr O Tuama said "just because other parties rush this issue doesn't mean we should have to" and discourage party colleagues from choosing to "run with the hare and hunt with the hound".
The decisions - which will define Sinn Féin policy on the issue from now on - were heard as between 30 and 40 pro-life campaigners gathered outside to urge delegates to oppose any relaxing of abortion laws.
The protesters from either side of the border said while they understand the need for clarity on fatal foetal abnormalities, allowing abortions in these cases takes away the chance - however slim - of the pregnancy to result in a child who can survive.
"The greatest war we have is in the womb of the mother," said one campaigner, SDLP Antrim councillor Brian Duffin.
"We have to start where god left off. Our lord said that 'before you formed in the womb, I knew you' so conception is a gift by god to the woman. Anybody who contravenes that is acting as an anti-christ, which is satan. Abortionists are satanic," he said.