THE SINN FÉIN ARD Fheis has voted down a motion which would have given members, including TDs and Senators, a free vote on the issue of abortion, as the party’s annual gathering got under way in Wexford tonight.
Over 1,000 delegates are expected at the Wexford Opera House this weekend with party president Gerry Adams to give a keynote, televised address tomorrow night.
The party has tonight voted down a motion to allow members to articulate and vote on the issue of abortion according to their conscience. Pro-life TD Peadar Tóibín, who has just returned to the party after a six-month suspension for voting against the abortion bill last summer, spoke in favour of the motion.
He described the whip system as “an oddity” that exists nowhere else in western democracies and said the motion “creates space for people on both sides of the debate”. Having just returned to the party fold this week Tóibín (below) joked he’d “rather nearly wear a Dublin jersey on the streets of Navan” than discuss the issue.
Mary Lou McDonald argued the issue of conscience is at play in every political decision taken, a view echoed by others who spoke. She called for the motion to be rejected “in recognition of the fact that we as a political party have to debate and then have to take policy positions on these matters”.
Dublin councillor Mícheál Mac Donncha said it was a “fundamentally dishonest motion” and received huge applause from the audience for his contribution, indicating the motion would fall as it did when it was put to delegates just after 9pm.
Earlier delegates debated the economy and the peace process with an emergency motion calling for the abandonment of water charges and the abolition of Irish Water passed.
During her keynote speech, McDonald described Environment Minister Phil Hogan as ‘the Bart Simpson of Irish politics’ criticising his handling of the spending on consultancy by Irish Water.
“The scandal of Phil Hogan, claiming he has no knowledge of how Irish Water spent €85 million of taxpayers’ money. Phil, the Bart Simpson of Irish politics, with his constant refrain of ‘it wasn’t me’,” she said to laughter and applause from delegates.
She hit out at the lack of a bank debt deal, the breach of the public sector pay cap for government advisors, and the payoffs for senior executives of the Central Remedial Clinic.
In his address, Northern Ireland’s Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness expressed frustration “at the failure of political unionism” during the recent Haass talks on the contentious issue of flags, parades and the past.
He said that not reaching agreement during the talks was a “missed opportunity” and said the issues that arose during negotiations needed to be resolved.
Earlier, McGuinness told the media there were elements of the Unionist movement which want the Haass process to succeed, but were being frustrated:
Senator David Cullinane told delegates his party is on the side of the poor and is anti-austerity. He hit out at the idea that the country is recovering from its economic collapse.
“We do not buy the Fine Gael and Labour spin that things are better simply because we are out of the bailout,” he said.
TD Aengus Ó Snodaigh hit out at the JobBridge internship scheme, saying “unscrupulous employers are managing to get nine months free labour from workers and the State is willing to comply with them”.
The party’s finance spokesperson Pearse Doherty said the policies of the coalition had deepened the crisis and reiterated the party’s commitment to abolish the property tax if elected to government.
- Follow @oconnellhugh for updates from the Sinn Féin Ard Fheis.
First published 7.22pm