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ANALYSIS

November 20, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) – Never underestimate the Irish capacity for rebellion.

Last week Peadar Tóibín, the Sinn Féin TD (member of the Irish Parliament) representing Meath West, resigned from the party in an open act of rebellion against Sinn Féin’s enthusiastic support for the introduction of abortion into both parts of Ireland.

Unlike most Irish political parties, Sinn Féin took a party line overriding any conscientious objection of its members and, instead, insisted that they support abortion in the Irish Republic and in Northern Ireland. Effectively, and only fairly recently, the party moved from being one with only vague notions around abortion law reform to one where the subject appeared to have become the most important issue in modern Irish politics.

Rather than disappearing from view after his resignation, The Irish News reported that Tóibín headed north to speak with Declan McGuinness, the brother of former Sinn Féin leader Martin McGuinness, and was in talks about setting up a pro-life Republican party.

Tóibín resigned from Sinn Féin on November 15, 2018. On November 1, 2018, Sinn Féin had announced that the party was suspending the Meath West TD for a period of six months as a result of his breach of the party whip when he voted against the Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Bill 2018. His vote was in contradiction of the party’s position supporting the introduction of abortion following the Irish referendum earlier this year.

Speaking after his resignation, Tóibín said: “I have been getting a lot of contacts from people from a Fianna Fáil background, from a Sinn Féin background who are really frustrated with regards [to] the direction the leaderships are going and the lack of space for different views. 

“So over the next month it is my objective to go around the country to meet people who have similar views as myself from different political backgrounds and see if we can fold those people into a tight organization that can actually represent those views and work hard for those objectives of a united Ireland and economic justice for people.”

Tóibín hinted that he intended to “build a new 32-county [all Ireland] movement.” The speed of his actions, however, will come as a surprise to many. Reports suggest that the anticipated new party could be established ahead of council elections scheduled for next year on both sides of the Irish border.

It is believed that Declan McGuinness has expressed a willingness to stand as a candidate. His brother, Martin, who died in March last year, had been at the forefront of Sinn Féin for many decades. For a number of years, he was Northern Ireland’s Deputy First Minister.

Already Tóibín’s efforts to create a new pro-life Republican party have found support from those who have also left Sinn Féin on account of its recently-adopted position on abortion. Derry husband and wife Francie and Anne Brolly both quit their high-profile positions within Sinn Féin in similar circumstances. They were recently quoted as saying that they are fully supportive of what Tóibín is doing.

Sinn Féin was founded as a political party in 1905. It has been at the forefront of the Republican movement in Ireland ever since, although also during these years subject to frequent splits within its ranks. After having been moribund electorally for a number of decades, the party came back to prominence by winning elections from the 1980s onwards, beginning in Northern Ireland and then in the Republic too.

Today, the party is the second largest in the North and third biggest in the South. Traditionally, the vast majority of Sinn Féin voters were and still are Catholic. Until relatively recently, the party’s policy positions on subjects such as abortion reflected the social conservatism previously prevalent within Irish Catholicism. More recently, however, the party has moved to adopt an extremely liberal position on abortion, cloaking its policy change with words such as “compassion” and “equality.”

It is hard to know if there is much electoral support for a pro-life party within Ireland. Although almost 34 percent of the Irish electorate voted “no” in this year’s abortion referendum, all the major political parties in the Irish Republic support the change to a more liberal abortion regime. In Northern Ireland, only the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) is wholly pro-life, with no other Northern party so unequivocal in its support for the rights of the unborn. The DUP takes its votes from Ulster’s Protestants and is wholly pro-Union with Britain. Other than on life issues, the DUP would have nothing in common politically with the proposed pro-life Republican party.

It is too early to say, but Tóibín’s actions are unlikely to cause a stir within Sinn Féin, let alone a split of some kind. Sinn Féin does not tolerate open debate within its ranks – nevermind open dissent – and, since the abortion referendum, there were many within Sinn Fein who viewed Tóibín as disloyal. Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald, commenting on the news of his resignation, said: “People voted to repeal the eighth amendment [to allow abortion]. There is a responsibility on all Sinn Féin TDs to give effect to the people’s vote and to represent Sinn Féin policy…Unfortunately, Peadar was unable to do this.”

Tóibín has ruled out returning to his former political party. It can be assumed that, privately, Sinn Féin’s leadership is glad he has exited the party. From now on Sinn Féin will present a more united front to the world when it comes to abortion while, no doubt, the party’s efforts will be redoubled to unseat Tóibín at the next election.

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