A former Sinn Féin MLA who quit the party has likened the control exercised by its leadership to that of “army discipline”.
Francie Brolly, who was MLA for East Londonderry from 2003 to 2010, has quit Sinn Féin over the party’s stance on abortion and its decision not to allow a “conscience vote” on the issue.
His wife, Anne Brolly, resigned from the party in 2016 over abortion, having served as a Sinn Féin councillor on the old Limavady Borough Council for nearly 15 years.
Mr Brolly said that, at that time, he had decided to stay and work from within Sinn Féin to change the policy.
Sinn Féin voted last year to support extending access to abortions, having previously supported allowing abortion in certain cases where it is deemed the child will not survive, often referred to as ‘fatal foetal abnormality’.
In an interview with the News Letter, Francie Brolly criticised the tight control exercised by the party leadership on what he believes should be “issues of conscience”.
“It comes possibly from their roots in the north,” he said.
“This new Sinn Féin was fundamentally started in the north and spread southwards.
“That control comes from where it all started in the Troubles, where it was the kind of control that you associate with armies rather than politics.”
He added: “It’s a sort of an army discipline almost.”
Explaining his view on abortion, Mr Brolly said: “People generally speaking, would put it down simply to the fact that you are religious. But it is immaterial whether or not you are religious.
“It is a moral issue whether you can accept the killing of a baby in the womb. It’s just part of our humanity that we don’t kill our fellow human beings, whether they are in the womb or out of the womb.”
Both Francie and Anne Brolly are members of a pro-life lobby group known as ‘Cherish All The Children Equally’, which takes its name from the proclamation of the Irish Republic in 1916.
However, Mr Brolly said the issue of individual conscience was more “fundamental” than the abortion issue.
“Unfortunately when you’re talking about political parties you’re talking about party policy taking over from individual conscience,” he said.
“It is very far away from any kind of republican idealism. The very heart of republicanism is about freedom — freedom and equality. I would look back to 1798 and the United Irishmen’s take on the French model. If you have no freedom you have no republic.“
He continued: “It’s sort of fatuous of Sinn Féin to say they are trying to create a republic
“The control of conscience is the more fundamental issue because if they control conscience it doesn’t matter what we’re talking about. It could be abortion, euthanasia, anything.
“If the party says that’s it the elected members have no right to object to party policy.”
A Sinn Féin spokesperson said: “The party membership voted overwhelmingly at the Ard Fheis last November to amend party policy on the issue.
“Sinn Féin regrets Francie Brolly’s decision to resign.”
He added: “We thank him for his many years of service and wish him well in the future.”