Sinn Féin branches seek ‘vote of conscience’ on abortion law

Party leadership seeking to apply whip on the matter but 24 local cumainn are opposed

Three cumainn from Meath West TD Peadar Tóibín’s constituency  support a vote of conscience on the forthcoming legislation on abortion. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill

Three cumainn from Meath West TD Peadar Tóibín’s constituency support a vote of conscience on the forthcoming legislation on abortion. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill


Twenty-four Sinn Féin cumainn have called for a vote of conscience on the forthcoming legislation on abortion.

The party will gather for its ard fheis in Belfast this weekend and party leader Mary Lou McDonald will seek to amend party policy on the issue of abortion.

Ms McDonald is urging delegates to alter its position to coincide with the Government’s legislative proposals in this area.

However, the party’s ard fheis will also hear demands to allow members “articulate and vote on the issue of abortion according to their conscience”.

The motion, which has the support of the South Derry branch and three cumainn from Meath West TD Peadar Tóibín’s constituency, says the issue is a “deeply divisive” one within the party and wider society.

It says people’s views are often based on their own, “often painful experience and on strongly held beliefs” and urges the party leadership to accommodate the different views on this difficult issue.

A number of cumainn from Cos Dublin, Kildare, Waterford and Wexford are among the other branches supporting the motion.

Sinn Féin supported repeal of the Eighth Amendment in the referendum last month but its party policy states it supports terminations in the cases of rape, incest, fatal foetal abnormalities and when a mother’s life, health or mental health is at risk.

The party’s ard comhairle, and nine other cumainn, are proposing the policy now be altered to recognise the decision of the people and to legislate for the issue of abortion.

It says this is a recognition of the fact that women are already accessing abortion services every day and that it is not possible to legislate for abortion in the cases of rape.

The motion also states Sinn Féin members “of a legislature shall act in line with the view of the ard comhairle”, reinforcing the application of the whip.

Already Mr Tóibín has confirmed he cannot support aspects of the Government’s legislation, most notably access to abortion within the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.

Offaly TD Carol Nolan is already suspended from the party for voting against legislation to hold a referendum on the Eighth Amendment and is said to be considered her future within Sinn Féin.

The referendum to remove Article 40.3.3 of the Constitution was passed by an overwhelming majority. Sinn Féin has applied a whip on the matter, unlike Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil which is allowing its party members a vote of conscience on the matter.

Meanwhile, Minister for Health Simon Harris is to meet with opposition spokespersons on health on Wednesday to discuss the legislation to implement the decision of the people.

It is understood Mr Harris may be in a position to publish the legislation a week earlier than planned. It was due to be considered by Cabinet on July 10th but this may be brought forward to July 3rd.

The Minister is also expected to seek cross-party consensus to passing second stage of the legislation by the summer recess.

Mr Harris had committed to reporting back to the TDs within two weeks on proposals to repeal the information act, which would allow doctors to share information with their colleagues in the United Kingdom.

He had also said he would examine if decriminalisation could occur prior to the legislation on abortion services being passed.

It is understood the Minister is unlikely to agree to both measures and will stress the need to focus on the legislation to regulate the termination of pregnancy.

However, he will commit to ensuring both aspects will be enacted as soon as the law is passed. It had been expected such would not occur until January 2019, when abortion services will be introduced.