Sinn Féin party reps in Dublin 'not consulted' about abortion motion in Stormont

Sinn Féin party reps in Dublin say they were not consulted over a party motion that would seek to restrict abortion in the north.
Sinn Féin party reps in Dublin 'not consulted' about abortion motion in Stormont

Sinn Féin party reps in Dublin say they were not consulted over a party motion that would seek to restrict abortion in the north.

The party is grappling with widespread criticism of their stance on abortion in Northern Ireland, which came "out of left-field" for some TDs and Senators, some of which learned about the amendment on social media.

A motion brought by four DUP MLAs is being debated in Stormont today, which seeks to limit grounds for abortion in Northern Ireland by rejecting: "The imposition of abortion legislation which extends to all non-fatal disabilities, including Down’s syndrome”.

An amendment introduced by Sinn Féin modifies the language to reject “the specific legislative provision in the abortion legislation which goes beyond fatal foetal abnormalities to include non-fatal disabilities, including Down’s syndrome”.

Critics argue Sinn Féin's amendment to the motion would effectively support the DUP’s position while appearing to reject it, while Sinn Féin Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill has said her party cannot support legislation that would allow for abortion in non-fatal disability cases.

In Northern Ireland, abortion is legal in cases of fatal foetal abnormalities but not in cases where a foetus is likely to survive.

Sinn Féin Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill
Sinn Féin Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill

Some argue that legalising abortion in cases of non-fatal foetal abnormalities would lead to abortions based on disability, while Grainne Teggart, Amnesty International’s Northern Ireland campaign manager, said it represents a rollback of human rights: “This motion will change nothing legally but is a clear signal that the DUP wants to roll back the hard-won rights of women and girls.

“Sinn Féin and other parties must not prop up a dangerous anti-choice agenda – instead, they should support human rights and show they’re on the side of women."

The motion will not change abortion legislation - which has been law since October 21, 1019 - or abortion regulations in Northern Ireland, but Arlene Foster said would: "Send a message" that Stormont does not support the regulations, and wants to create their own legislation, overturning the laws enforced by Westminster.

Pro-choice campaigners say the move is a significant departure from the party's stance on abortion in the Republic of Ireland, in which the party supported the Repeal The Eighth movement, which did not include similar limits on terminations.

The party headquarters and a number of MLAs submitted a templated response to journalists and media outlets on Monday, which stated: "Sinn Féin does not support CEDAW’s recommendation to provide abortion in the case of severe fetal impairment,” a spokesman for Sinn Féin said.

DUP first minister Arlene Foster
DUP first minister Arlene Foster

Sources within the party say there has been a rare "breakdown of communication between Dublin and Belfast", which has shocked some members.

"This definitely came from left field, I'm surprised we weren't consulted in the south about it, I don't understand the logic," one senior party source said.

"It took so long to get the party where it is, electorally, the stance on abortion hasn't damaged the party, even in the north where the issue is more sensitive, some would say it was actually a turning point.

"People told us they saw Mary Lou in a different light during Repeal, so why they want to open this wound again, I don't know.

"Maybe they thought this would give pro-lifers in the north some comfort, but we weren't damaged in the north by the position and now they've reopened this argument with a motion that won't actually change anything.

"The communications have really improved north and south, and there has been huge work done on health policy specifically on all-Ireland models, so I don't know why this happened.

"Maybe a disconnect because of Covid19, people aren't engaging as much, but generally that kind of communication had gotten better, purely because we've learned those lessons."

Sources within Sinn Fein have also noted that the motion would bring Northern Ireland's abortion legislation in line with the current legislation in the Republic of Ireland. Figures show that from March 31 to May 22, 129 abortions have been carried out in Northern Ireland.

Sinn Fein have been approached for comment.

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