A campaigner has decried the delighted reaction of Sinn Fein members as they defeated a bid to make abortion a matter of conscience in the party.
Mairead Hughes, co-ordinator for pro-life republican group Cherish All the Children Equally, expressed distaste at both the decision to deny legislators a right to conscientious objection and the manner in which the news was greeted.
Sinn Fein opted to change its policy on terminations to effectively back unrestricted abortion up to 12 weeks into a pregnancy at its ard fheis in Belfast on Saturday.
Whilst parties frequently treat abortion as a matter of individual conscience, a clause in Sinn Fein’s new policy explicitly states that all TDs and MLAs “shall act in line with the view of the ard chomhairle (high council)” on the subject.
When delegates voted to approve the high council’s motion affirming the policy, the result was greeted with a swell of whoops and applause.
Similarly the defeat of a grassroots members’ motion calling for legislators to be given freedom of conscience was met with cheering too.
Mrs Hughes said her group (the website for which proclaims “our revenge was supposed to be the laughter of our children, not their abortion”) has about 450 members.
Whilst not a Sinn Fein member herself, she said the group includes roughly 50 people (mainly councillors) who are current party members or who have recently quit over its pro-choice direction.
When it comes to the reaction at the ard fheis, she said: “How can it be a wonderful thing to silence people? To silence people who want to vote differently according to their conscience. How can that be an achievement?”
She said there is nothing “worthy of celebration” in the move, adding: “It’s a power trip. Maybe it’s some sense of power. I don’t understand it.
“I don’t think the people who are cheering really have thought it through what they’re cheering.
“It’s just they feel: ‘We have looked at this and we have won’.”
As to what will happen next, she believes some members will depart Sinn Fein.
“There’ll be some – I don’t know how many,” she said.
“There’ll be individuals who think: ‘I cannot work with this’.
“There’ll be others who think: ‘I am going to stay here and make noise within the party until I am silenced’. They might want to wait until they’re pushed.”
Among the social media users venting their anger about the vote on Twitter was one called Donagh (@Donagh).
Though they declined to speak directly to the News Letter, they publicly shared a picture of a 2018 Sinn Fein membership card which had been cut in half.
A message accompanying it said: “A party that denies conscientious objection on life & death is NOT republican.
“After a lifetime of support through family generations, I choose to leave this band of careerists & self-promoters.”
They also wrote that it was “appalling” to hear delegates “cheering, yes actually cheering, abortion on demand without gestational limits and denying their members right to conscientious objection”.
Another user called Roisin Fallon Mckee (@roisin_mckee) simply said: “Not my party anymore.”
Among those voicing a dissenting view at the ard fheis was Wexford councillor Oisin O’Connell, who said: “It is a contradiction to both advocate for cultural and intellectual diversity, and yet prevent functional dissent on such uniquely contested topics.”
Rejecting this argument, Sinn Fein vice president Michelle O’Neill said “we are not independents – we are Sinn Fein elected representatives first and foremost”.