Sinn Féin TD Peadar Tóibín has resigned from the party over his opposition to abortion, and says he will now seek to build a new party among people who voted against the referendum on abortion.
Mr Toibin had been suspended from the parliamentary party because of his opposition both to the referendum repealing the eighth amendment of the Constitution and to the legislation currently going through the Oireachtas.
However, his announcement marks a full break with the party after 21 years. He follows Offaly TD Carol Nolan, who has also left the party over her opposition to abortion.
It is with a heavy heart that I resign from Sinn Féin today. I have been a member of the party for 21 years. In that time I poured all my efforts into achieving Irish Unity & Economic Justice. This clearly is no longer enough. I will now help to build a new 32 County movement. pic.twitter.com/RqzimdR8Zp— Peadar Tóibín (@Toibin1) November 15, 2018
While both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael operate a conscience vote on abortion, Sinn Féin insists that its TDs observe the party whip on the issue.
In a letter to the party’s chief whip Aengus Ó Snodaigh on Thursday, the Meath West TD said that he was resigning from the party immediately “with a heavy heart”.
He said he had been excluded from speaking rights, spokesperson’s positions, and had been “significantly censored” in his media appearances.
He said he had sought “in every way I know how simply to make space with the party for people with a different view on this one issue” but had been consistently frustrated and ignored.
Mr Tóibín, who was first sanctioned by his party after he opposed the Protection of Life in Pregnancy Bill in 2013, complained that he had a “written deal” with the party since 2012 which “stated that the party would treat me equally and would not marginalise me due to my views on the right to life as long as I also gave the party view”.
He said: “This deal worked well for four years at no cost to the party. Over 18 months ago that deal was binned unilaterally by the party.”
Mr Tóibín said he wrote to the party leadership two weeks ago “to find out was there a future for me and republicans like me to contribute to the development of the party in a fair and equal manner. This email was never replied to. That may be an answer in itself,” he said.
Mr Toibin also warned the party that for a united Ireland to be achieved “the party must be flexible, broad and inclusive”.
Speaking to reporters at Leinster House, Mr Tóibín said he would seek to speak to like-minded people in Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil and outside those parties who shared his views with a view to establishing a new national grouping.
He said people “were seeking an alternative vehicle so that the 34 per cent of the population [who voted to keep the eighth amendment] have a voice”.
He said this section of the electorate was being “pushed to the margins”.
He said he would see “if we can fold those people into a tight political organisation that actually represents those views, and would work hard for those objectives of a united Ireland and economic justice for people”.
Any new party would not seek to overturn the referendum result but would seek to tighten the laws on abortion currently going through the Oireachtas, he added.
In a statement, Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said “all Sinn Féin elected representatives are bound by the decisions of the ard fheis.
“The people voted to repeal the eighth amendment. There is a responsibility on all Sinn Féin TDs to give effect to the people’s vote and to represent Sinn Féin policy. Unfortunately Peadar was unable to do this,” she said.
The Sinn Féin deputy leader Michelle O’Neill said Mr Tóibín’s resignation from the party is “unfortunate but hardly a surprise”.