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Mary Lou McDonald looks towards government as Sinn Féin votes to change stance on abortion

Party policy is now in favour of abortion on request.

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald after her Ard Fheis speech this evening.
Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald after her Ard Fheis speech this evening.

Updated Jun 16th 2018, 10:27 PM

SINN FÉIN LEADER Mary Lou McDonald has said that her party will speak to other parties after the next general election with a view to potentially going into government.

Delivering her first Ard Fheis speech as leader of the party in Belfast this evening, McDonald said that she wished to enter government “from a position of strength”.

“I want to lead this party into a progressive government in the south. I want to do that from a position of strength, a strength derived from the support of the people,” McDonald told members.

After the next election, Sinn Féin will talk to all political parties and the independents. In those discussions we will stand on the side of ordinary people.

“To those who are on an agenda to exclude us, I invite them to wake up and smell the coffee. To realise that Irish political life is no longer dictated by them, it is no longer their way or the highway,” McDonald added.

The Dublin Central TD made a number of references to Irish government and said it must ensure that Brexit negotiations do not move forward until questions over the border are resolved.

“There can be no question of progressing to the next phase of these negotiations in the absence of an answer to the Irish question,” she said.

On the recent referendum that repealed the Eighth Amendment, McDonald said that legislation must be passed “without delay”.

SINN FEIN ARD FHEIS BELFAST 083 This weekend's Sinn Féin Ard Fheis was the party's first in 35 years without Gerry Adams as leader.

Earlier today, the Ard Fheis had passed a motion that directs its TDs to vote in favour in abortion on request when legislation comes before the Dáil.

Another motion which sought to allow members vote according to their conscience on the issue was defeated.

Speaking during the debate on the above two motions,  Michelle O’Neill MLA told members that everyone is entitled to have a conscience but that “there is a distinct difference between our own personal views and our role as legislators”.

The motion directs that elected members “act in line with the view of the Ard Comhairle”, effectively reinforcing Sinn Féin’s stance that members face censure if they vote the against the party.

Party whip Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD said that elected members must obey the whip when it is applied and that they must reflect policy as set by the Ard Fheis.

“When you are elected for Sinn Féin you will stand for the policy of the party as decided by the members here,” he said.

Sinn Féin’s policy before the Ard Fheis had been in favour of abortion in cases of risk or in grave danger to the mother and in cases of rape or incest as well as in cases of fatal foetal abnormalities.

The position has now been expanded to say that the party: “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.”

(Click here if video doesn’t play)

The competing motions were debated for well over an hour with party members queuing up to make contributions.

Although a number of speakers spoke in favour of allowing a conscience vote, they were greatly outnumbered by those who sought to formalise the party leadership’s stance on the issue.

Several of those who spoke quoted the number of people who voted in favour of repealing the Eighth Amendment and said that the vote must be respected.

(Click here if video doesn’t play)

During the referendum campaign, the party allowed members campaign against party policy but leader Mary Lou McDonald TD has said that they would not be allowed vote against the party’s policy in the Dáil.

O’Neill said during her speech that the party had shown “a huge degree of latitude” with this policy.

Peadar Toibín TD was among those who campaigned against repeal but he did not speak during today’s debate.

Toibín has said he would vote against a Dáil bill allowing abortion on request up to 12 weeks of pregnancy.

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About the author:

Rónán Duffy

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