Responding to increasing unease within the party over its stance on abortion, the Sinn Féin Ard Comhairle met on Monday March 19 and decided to bring its annual Ard Fheis forward from November to June. This will apparently allow members to decide whether Sinn Féin will support legislation on allowing abortion up to 12 weeks, or beyond.
That sounds very democratic except that the referendum will be held in May, when the electorate will in effect also be voting for the legalisation of abortion at least up until 12 weeks, as that is the recommendation of the report approved by the majority of TDs and Senators, including Sinn Féin.
McDonald when questioned made it clear that the party’s position is in support of 12 weeks even though that has not been voted on by the members. So the Ard Fheis is really nothing more than a rubber stamp public relations exercise forced on the leadership who were hoping along with the government that people would be sleep walked into voting for a liberal abortion regime on the basis of simply repealing the 8th amendment.
The motion to be put to the Ard Fheis commits Sinn Féin to supporting the recommendations of the Oireachtas report, and that “abortion without specific indication should be available through a GP led service in a clinical context as determined by law and licensing practice for a limited gestational period.
“Sinn Féin members of a legislature shall act in line with the view of the Ard Chomhairle which will be informed by the best available medical advice, when legislating regarding the limited gestational period.” Which is what the Committee approved when it voted for a motion placed by Fine Gael TD Kate O’Connell. Which must be the first time a motion to a republican convention was drafted by a Fine Gaeler.
Sinn Féin members on the Committee also voted in favour of a motion, that was defeated, which would have allowed for abortion on the grounds of “socio-economic considerations” pertaining to a woman’s health. Which exposes the pretence that the party is not now, at leadership level, on the most extreme side of the abortion debate.
Speaking in the Dáil on March 20, Cork TD Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire made it clear that he and other Sinn Féin TDs support the 12 weeks proposal. Sinn Féin TD Peadar Tóibín who is opposed to the repeal of the 8th amendment underlined exactly what is being voted on: “The debate on repeal is currently a debate on abortion on request with no restriction for the first 12 weeks of the child’s existence…
Another element is not being discussed. The Minister’s policy document does not seem to mention any gestational limit for certain children, maybe children with life-limiting conditions.”
So it is apparent that when people vote in May – before Sinn Féin holds its Ard Fheis ostensibly to decide on how it will vote on subsequent legislation – that a Yes vote is a vote for a 12 week limit, and that abortion may be legislated for in the cases of a child being likely to be born with a disability.
There is much dissimulation on the pro repeal side. Even Richard Boyd Barrett of People Before Profit who support a more radical liberalisation of abortion law than proposed in the report, was anxious that the referendum not be contested on the actual issues: “I do not want in any sense to duck the issue of the 12 weeks and the important discussions that were had at the all-party Oireachtas committee but it is important to remind people that, in the first instance, what we are voting for is repealing the eighth amendment.” That is the Trojan Horse.
The claim that the referendum is simply to repeal the 8th is not exactly true anyway, as the default for legalising abortion on demand has already been agreed by the Oireachtas in passing the Committee report as 12 weeks. That is what will be put into legislation if the referendum votes to repeal the 8th. There is little doubt that TDs and Senators would again approve this., and that Sinn Féin will impose another party whip.
The death of Savita Halappanavar continues to be referred to by the pro abortion side, and was again by McDonald in announcing the Ard Fheis, when in fact the report into the case showed that the 8th amendment had nothing to do with the hospital mismanagement that was the central issue. The hospital failed to detect the development of the sepsis infection that led to her death. Had it done there was no legal impediment to any procedures being taken to save her life.
There will be much more dissimulation and lies as the campaign proceeds. There were even attempts to claim that the huge rally which turned out in support of rejecting the amendment proposal numbered less than 9,000.
Others will continue to utter weasel words in justification of their being marched into the lobbies by the party commissars. Pearse Doherty the Donegal TD was at one time adamantly opposed to abortion, and made that clear at meetings. Now he claims that he is opposed to “unrestricted abortion,” while supporting a 12 weeks limit which if legislated for will introduce just that within that time frame, and potentially beyond that where it concerns unborn children with diagnosed disabilities.
Sinn Féin Ard Fheiseanna are invariably well choreographed and dissent very rarely gets to be heard. So it will be interesting if there any motions opposing the leadership’s pro abortion stance, and whether any such motions if proposed will even get to be heard and voted upon.
In any event, holding such a conference AFTER the referendum is just more smoke and mirrors designed to deflect from what is being voted on, and to try to ensure that Sinn Féin members dutifully turn out to deliver leaflets and put up posters which conflict with their own views on the issues.
The latest victim of the refusal to allow a free vote is Carol Nolan the Offaly TD who was suspended from Sinn Féin on March 21 for voting against the proposal to hold a referendum.