Sinn Féin to decide on holding Ard Fheis on abortion

Sinn Féin will decide next Monday whether to hold a special national conference to decide if the party will back the Government proposal to allow unrestricted access to abortion during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.

Party sources say there are differing opinions internally on whether Sinn Féin should take a position, including how any divisive debate could impact on leader Mary Lou McDonald.

The Government will put the 12-week proposal to the Dáil for a vote if the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution, which gives equal protection to the right to life of the unborn and the right to life of the mother, is repealed in the proposed May referendum. 

While Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil are allowing free votes for its TDs, Sinn Féin is the only party yet to take a position on this.

While the party currently favours repeal and allowing for abortion in cases of rape, incest, and fatal foetal abnormalities, it does not favour unrestricted access to abortion in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.

Sinn Féin’s ard chomhairle will meet on Monday and decide whether to hold a special smaller Ard Fheis in April which would focus solely on the abortion question.

Cork North Central TD Jonathan O’Brien confirmed the decision would be made next week.

He said:

I would prefer a special Ard Fheis before the referendum, rather than leave the issue until afterwards.

Party sources noted there are concerns that the special conference could be divisive, look bad for Ms McDonald, and likely not guarantee the party any TV broadcasting time as it pertained to abortion.

A number of party Oireachtas members, including Meath West TD Peadar Tóibín, are also opposed to any liberalisation of Ireland’s abortion laws.

This would also be Ms McDonald’s first party conference and some sources suggest the party may wait and see what the referendum result is before deciding a position on the 12-week proposal.

A number of Government figures have called on Sinn Féin to support the 12-week access proposal to help ensure its passage through the Dáil.

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