Sinn Féin faces two crunch votes today on competing plans to back unrestricted access to abortion up to the 12th week of pregnancy or to allow members to formally oppose the official position in a move that could ultimately see at least two pro-life TDs quit the party.
The key votes will take place on the second day of Sinn Féin’s annual ard fheis in Belfast after a series of motions including plans to potentially run a presidential candidate were backed, and amid ongoing fears that pro-life TDs Peadar Toibin and Carol Nolan will leave the party over its increasingly pro-choice position.
In response to the the historic Eighth Amendment referendum result on May 25, Sinn Féin’s ard chomhairle, youth wing Ógra Shinn Féin, and eight other cumanns have tabled a motion to be voted on today for the party to extend its existing abortion policy to mirror the Government’s post-referendum abortion access plans.
While there is significant support within the party’s hierarchy and among members, there is also significant opposition from within the party’s northern and rural ranks, meaning the outcome of the vote remains unpredictable.
In addition, a rival motion from 24 other cumanns has called for the party to be “strong enough” to allow differing views on the “painful” issue and to let members vote “according to their conscience” instead of being told by headquarters what they should do.
While passing the 12th week abortion access motion would be a major win for Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald, it will also cause significant difficulties for Ms Nolan and Mr Tóibín, potentially leading to their departures from the party.
The vote outcome will be the stand-out moment of this weekend’s ard fheis, which also saw delegates vote in favour of a series of motions last night, including plans to “positively consider” putting forward a candidate should any presidential election take place later this year.
While the motion said “the office of Uachtarán na hÉireann is too important to be uncontested” and was widely backed by party officials, its wording allows Sinn Féin headquarters scope to decide on whether to run a candidate should a race occur.
At the opening of the Sinn Féin ard fheis last night, deputy leader Michelle O’Neill backed Mary Lou McDonald to become the first female taoiseach in Irish history, while Ms McDonald said the party’s ard fheis purple hue colour was in homage to the suffragette movement.
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