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Sinn Féin moves Ard Fheis forward to June to sort Eighth Amendment policy

Mary Lou McDonald said the Amendment has caused “an alphabet soup of misery”.

sf Mary Lou McDonald addresses this afternoon's press conference Source: TheJournal.ie/Órla Ryan

Updated 6.10pm

SINN FÉIN HAS brought forward its Ard Fheis in order to coordinate its policy with regard to the legislation that may be enacted in the wake of the coming referendum on the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution.

Speaking at a press conference today, leader Mary Lou McDonald said the Ard Fheis will be moved forward from November to June regardless of whether or not the referendum passes.

A date for the referendum has yet to be set in stone, though 25 May is understood to be the date favoured by government.

McDonald said this afternoon that the Eighth (which was voted into the Constitution in 1983, and equates an unborn child’s right to life with that of the mother) was something that “should never have been put into the Constitution”, adding that it had caused “an alphabet soup of misery”.

She said that, at the Ard Fheis, a draft motion would be debated in order to bring the party’s policy in line with the report of the Joint Oireachtas Committee’s report on the Eighth Amendment, specifically regarding the unrestricted access to abortion up to 12 weeks.

That motion will read:

This Ard Fheis - Reasserts that abortion should be available where a woman’s life, health or mental health is at risk and in cases of fatal foetal abnormality; Supports the Joint Oireachtas Committee findings that it is not possible to legislate for abortion in the case of rape in a compassionate way; Recognises that Irish women already access abortion services every day in other countries or through abortion pills purchased online without any medical supervision; Accepts that abortion without specific indication should be available through a GP led service in a clinical context as determined by law and licensing practice for a limited gestational period; and, Sinn Féin members of a legislature shall act in line with the view of the Ard Chomhairle which will be informed by the best available medical advice, when legislating regarding the limited gestational period.

When asked why the Ard Fheis will likely take place after the referendum rather than beforehand, McDonald said the meeting, now due to take place on 15 and 16 June, “will happen in good time for Sinn Féin to participate in the legislative process”.

“The efforts of the party have to now be directed very, very firmly in terms of achieving repeal of the Eighth Amendment,” she said.

“The instances of the X Case, Savita (Halappanavar), that alphabet soup of misery that I described, those instances happened. A woman who was deemed to be brain-dead was left on a life-support machine for 24 days, her family had to go to the courts to remedy that situation, that happened here, in this jurisdiction.

Our first port of call is to repeal the Eighth Amendment, to make sure that never ever again that those circumstances can arise and, of course, then we need a robust legislative framework and of course we need to have a discussion around it, but let’s not go putting the cart before the horse.

McDonald said unrestricted access to abortion up to 12 weeks isn’t specifically mentioned in the motion as it’s not yet certain what the subsequent legislation will be should the Eighth Amendment be repealed.

“What we don’t want is a party position that says 12 weeks and then, if it’s 10 weeks or if it’s 13 weeks, that we have to go back to another Ard Fheis.”

McDonald said the gestational limit should be based on advice from medical experts.

In relation to abortion pills, she said: “I know from initial discussions with our membership, people are genuinely horrified at the concept of women and girls self-medicating and taking these pills with absolutely no supervision. So all of those things are taken account of in the motion.”

‘Trusting women’

Yesterday, a Sunday Times opinion poll reported that 49% of voters want the Eighth Amendment repealed, while 27% are against this, 20% are unsure and 4% of people polled said they won’t vote in the upcoming referendum.

When asked if she is concerned the Amendment may not be repealed, given the number of people yet to decide how they will vote, McDonald said she’s “confident” and “hopeful” it will be.

I imagine there are still lots of people who have yet to sit down and in real terms consider what they are going to do … From here on it gets critical, the latter number of weeks will be the moment where people actually make up their minds.

“I’m very heartened by the fact that polling consistently has demonstrated that Irish public opinion favours the repeal of the Eighth Amendment.”

However, McDonald added: “We don’t take anything for granted, I wouldn’t be so arrogant as to do that.

“Let’s get one thing clear, we cannot tolerate the status quo, we cannot have a situation where we you have a provision in the Constitution of this land that is so injurious to women, to their health and to their lives, and where we have all of the evidence around us that amply demonstrates that fact.”

McDonald said public policy should be based on “the trust we place in women, the trust we place in mothers”.

“I am well aware that within Sinn Féin, just as in wider society,  there are mixed views on the issue of abortion. I accept that and I respect that.

We need to respect people’s views but we also have to protect women and ensure that compassion prevails.

She said she hopes the public discussion on the issue will take place in an “atmosphere of maximum respect and tolerance … and informed debate”.

Additional reporting Cianan Brennan

Read: Sinn Féin suspends senator for retweeting post calling IRA victim a ‘sadist prison officer’

Read: UK and EU agree on Brexit ‘backstop’ solution for the Irish border

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Órla Ryan

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