Renegade pro-life Sinn Féin TDs Carol Nolan and Peadar Tóibín are facing mounting pressure to decide if they will remain as party members or quit after colleagues voted to further liberalise Sinn Féin’s abortion policy.
In a landslide vote at the party’s annual ard fheis in Belfast, Sinn Féin delegates voted to support unrestricted access to abortion in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy and to reject calls for a conscience clause on the issue.
The decisions were made after a 90-minute debate on the topic which included more than 50 speakers, including party whip Aengus Ó Snodaigh, health spokeswoman Louise O’Reilly, housing spokesman Eoin O Broin, and MEP Martina Anderson.
In particular, Ms O Reilly told delegates “we are Sinn Féin not me féin”; Mr O Broin said TDs must put their personal views to one side and take on the “responsibility” of legislating for voters; and Mr Ó Snodaigh warned the new policy and the party’s whip must be “obeyed”.
However, while a small number of pro-life members spoke in favour of retaining Sinn Féin’s previous limited abortion policy and of allowing a conscience clause on the matter to cater for pro-life views — saying otherwise the party will become “a cold house” for conservative views — Mr Tóibín and Ms Nolan were not among them.
The vote has led to intense speculation over the future of Mr Tóibín and Ms Nolan in the party, as both are likely to oppose the Government’s 12 weeks abortion access law when it is voted on in the Dáil in the coming weeks.
However, despite numerous Irish Examiner requests for comment on the matter since Saturday’s vote, neither had clarified their position at the time of going to press.
Ms Nolan is currently suspended from Sinn Féin after previously voting against liberalising abortion access, while Mr Tóibín avoided suspension as he did not attend the vote.
Under existing party rules, Sinn Féin cannot nominate a candidate to run in a general election if the person has been suspended from the party in the past six months.
In addition, Ms Nolan is facing a separate battle, as it is expected Sinn Féin may only win one seat in the recently changed Offaly constituency, with fellow TD Brian Stanley likely to be party headquarter’s favoured choice.
Meanwhile, Northern Irish pro-life group Precious Life has called on any Sinn Féin TD opposed to the party’s switch to pro-choice policies to quit and form a new republican party.
“There is an opportunity, an appetite, for a new republican party, a new republican party that’s pro-life and representative of republican people,” spokeswoman Bernadette Smyth told the Irish Examiner at a protest outside the ard fheis.
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