Abortion poses greatest threat to SF unity since ‘peace process’

Party’s árdfheis debates a number of issues including revised Croke Park deal

Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald TD addresses the party’s árdfheis. She urged party members to vote in favour of a motion allowing them to vote on the issue of abortion according to their conscience. Photograph: Sinn Féin.

Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald TD addresses the party’s árdfheis. She urged party members to vote in favour of a motion allowing them to vote on the issue of abortion according to their conscience. Photograph: Sinn Féin.

Sat, Apr 13, 2013, 21:01

Abortion poses the biggest threat to the unity of Sinn Féin since the peace process, the party's ardfheis has been told as delegates voted against a motion to allow freedom of conscience on the issue.

Eamon Arbuckle, from the party's UCD branch, said "the potential for fissure, fracture and division is enormous". He asked why the party would advance and support a policy which went against the conscience of its members.

But the party's ardchomhairle urged delegates to reject the motion from Meath, Cork and Donegal cumainn that "all Sinn Féin members be allowed to articulate and vote on the issue of abortion according to their conscience".

Deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald urged support instead for the motion, which was passed, calling on the Government to immediately introduce legislation to give effect to the 1992 judgment of the Supreme Court in the X case "to protect pregnant women where their lives are in danger and to give legal certainty to medical professionals".

The motion also called on the North's Minister for Health to reintroduce guidance for medical professionals as a matter of priority and expressed its support and sympathy for the family of Savita Halappanavar. Ms McDonald, who ackonwedlged that abortion was a "fiercely difficult" issue, said "there should be no confusion within the health system" on the matter.

Meath East TD Peadar Tóibín, however, said Sinn Féin's policy was not confined to the tragic case of Ms Halappanavar, "nor is it confined to the X case".

Mr Tóibín has already been sanctioned by the party when he failed to vote on the party's private member's motion in the Dáil calling on the Government to legislate for the X-case.

He said a minority of the party might be "pro-life" but a significant number of members "more than you think" were against abortion, he said. Sinn Fein was "not about forcing people to vote against their conscience".

Separately, Ms McDonald told the meeting that claims that public sector workers are protected from financial struggle were a lie. One third of public sector workers earn the average industrial wage "or less", she said.

Speaking at the party’s árdfheis, the Dublin Central TD condemned the revised Croke Park deal and said its proposals were anything but fair and equitable.

Ms McDonald told delegates that the Government's message to public sector workers was "take this deal or we'll really hurt you".

She said workers on the frontline were taking the hits in their wages and their flexible working arrangements were being undermined.

The renegotiated deal represented another example of the Government dipping into the pockets of low and middle-income eearners, Ms McDonald said.

She congratulated public sector workers who had spoken out against the agreement and said "we Republicans are up for the fight against austerity".

The party's enterprise spokesman Peadar Tóibín said nine people were emigrating from Ireland every hour and the Government's response was "completely inadequate", a view echoed by another delegate Donnacha Ó Laghaire who said "our parents didn't raise us for export".

During a debate on housing Cllr Micheal Mac Donncha said residents of Priory Hall were victims of the "criminal greed of a disgraceful developer who built unsafe and substandard housing", former republican hunger striker Thomas McFeely.

Cllr McDonncha said they were also victims of the "criminal neglect of local authorities and central government which allowed such houses to be built".

These homes, he said, were built "to the lowest standard" and were not properly inspected and were signed off by developers and council officers without any inspection and no fire safety standards. He criticised Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan who "has yet to even meet the residents of Priory Hall".