McGuinness tells Sinn Fein Ardfheis that unionist ‘rejectionists’ holding back progress

Deputy First Minister offers to speak to dissidents about abandoning violence

Peadar Tóibín. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

Peadar Tóibín. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times


Sinn Féin delegates voted by a comfortable majority at the party’s ardfheis last night against a motion allowing for freedom of conscience in voting on the issue of abortion.

Seventeen of the party’s cumainn supported the motion: “This ardfheis agrees that all Sinn Féin members be allowed to articulate and vote on the issue of abortion according to their conscience.”

Meath West TD Peadar Tóibín, newly returned to the parliamentary party fold after voting last year against Sinn Féin’s position on the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill, supported the motion.

Mr Tóibín said it was the last debate he wanted to have on his first week back in the fold. “I’d rather nearly wear a Dublin jersey on the streets of Navan at three o’clock in the morning. But the motion is there and I believe in it with all my heart.”

He added that “the whip system in Ireland is an oddity, exists nowhere else in western democracy. It’s illegal in some and anti-constitutional in others.”

Meanwhile, positive political elements in unionism, who are being “held back” by negative forces within their ranks, must break free of the “naysayers” and lead from the front, Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said last night.

Mr McGuinness continued with his verbal assault on what he termed “rejectionist” unionists who are preventing the implementation of the Haass proposals on parades, flags and the past when he spoke last night at the ardfheis in the Wexford Opera House.

The conference is taking place ahead of local and European elections in May in both the North and the South, with speeches today including that of party president Gerry Adams likely to focus on rallying members for those campaigns.

Mr McGuinness, in his keynote address to more than 300 delegates, concentrated on the issues that are stalling political endorsement of the proposals put to the five main parties by Dr Richard Haass and Prof Meghan O’Sullivan. He asked if political unionism was up for doing a deal. “The Haass proposals as they currently stand represent a huge missed opportunity if they are not accepted by the parties,” he said.

Mr McGuinness said Sinn Féin would not renegotiate Haass or enter a “dead-end process” aimed at postponing any unionist movement on Haass until after May or even into the autumn.

Earlier last night Mr McGuinness apologised to the family of Det Garda Seamus Quaid, who was shot dead by the IRA in October 1980 when he stopped a van at Cleariestown, Co Wexford, while investigating bank robberies.

A plaque in his honour at the Opera House was removed at the request at the family because the ardfheis was being staged at the venue.