Sinn Féin – The Party of Unity Appears Divided on Abortion Issue

On Saturday September 30th, the streets of Dublin city filled with tens of thousands of people calling for greater access to abortion services at the ‘March for Choice.’ The march’s organisers estimate that up to 40,000 people were in attendance. Yet of the dozens of groups present there was one noticeable absence: Sinn Féin.According to a Sinn Féin spokesperson, a multitude of party members and representatives attended the event in an informal sense. However, with senior party figures otherwise engaged at the time of the march it may cause some to question the party’s commitment to the controversial issue.“The march went beyond the party position” said the spokesperson, who affirmed that Sinn Féin does advocate for the repealing of the eighth amendment but the party stance “does not go as far as the rally organisers.” The rally organisers, the Abortion Rights Campaign, campaign towards the achievement of full access to free, safe, and legal abortion services for all women in Ireland.Sinn Féin submitted their party’s position regarding abortion rights and the protocol for repealing the eighth amendment to the Citizen’s Assembly debating the topic in March 2017. This submission states that the party is in favour of “the introduction of legislation, north and south, to allow for terminations in the cases of fatal foetal abnormalities, rape and incest.”Sinn Féin Deputy Leader, Mary-Lou McDonald, was occupied with a party meeting in Letterkenny along with the party’s finance spokesperson, Pearse Doherty, when the March for Choice was happening.The party’s housing spokesperson, Eóin Ó Broin, and MEP Lynn Boylan were in Barcelona observing the contested Catalonian independence referendum. Ms. Boylan tweeted a picture of herself sporting a ‘Repeal the 8th’ hoodie in support of the march.Notwithstanding the lack of party support, some representatives like TD Seán Crowe from Dublin South West and Councillor Sarah Holland of Rathfarnham did participate in the event.Despite Sinn Féin’s absence, a number of other parliamentary parties attended, supporting the march’s cause in a more official sense. The Social Democrats, Labour, and Solidarity-People Before Profit all took part championing the rally’s message under party banners. The Green Party were represented at the march by the Young Greens. A notable amount of government ministers and TDs were present on the day also including the prominent figure behind the 2015 Marriage Equality campaign, Minister for Children Katherine Zappone.The Social Democrats maintain, since their establishment in mid-2015, that the eighth amendment should be repealed in its entirety and that the recommendations of a Citizens’ Assembly should be put before the public. Labour advocates the repeal of the eighth amendment from the Constitution and the passing of legislation to allow for abortions in the case of fatal foetal abnormalities, rape, and incest. The revamped Solidarity-People Before Profit alliance contend that the eighth amendment should be repealed fully and that a woman should have full access to free and legal abortions in the Republic.Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael representatives were not accompanied with official party support at the march, much like Sinn Féin. Fine Gael TD Kate O’Connell was spotted, however, and is known to support the pro-choice movement.Fine Gael’s current position on the amendment is unclear. It states it wants to allow the special Oireachtas Committee debating the Citizens’ Assembly report on the eighth amendment to proceed without comment. This inter-party Oireachtas Committee, which will determine the wording of an exact referendum proposal, is comprised of 15 TDs and six Senators from various governmental parties.