DUBLIN, Ireland – Peadar Toibin, an Irish lawmaker who was suspended from the Sinn Fein political party for voting against legalizing abortion, is working to launch a new pro-life political movement whose draft manifesto says “all human life should be protected” and “no mother or child should be left behind.”
“We seek to protect the most vulnerable in society at all stages of life,” the draft continues, according to the Irish newspaper The Journal. “We believe that all of the necessary economic and social supports must be provided to mothers and families to ensure that they can raise their children in confidence.”
“We seek an Irish Republic, where the objectives of the 1916 Proclamation, to ‘Cherish all the Children of the Nation Equally’, are achieved,” continues the manifesto, citing one of the foundational documents of 20th century Irish politics.
Toibin, a Sinn Fein Member of Parliament from County Meath, on Nov. 15 resigned from the party with “a heavy heart.” He had been suspended from the party for six months for his vote against pro-abortion rights legislation that would implement the repeal of the pro-life Eighth Amendment to the Republic of Ireland’s constitution, a repeal approved by a strong majority of voters May 25.
About 34 of voters percent voted against repeal. Among the youngest voters, aged under 25, only about 10 percent voted against repeal.
Toibin told reporters he would seek to gather like-minded people together for those who “were seeking an alternative vehicle so that the 34 per cent of the population have a voice.” Such people were being marginalized, he said.
Michael Kelly, editor of the newspaper The Irish Catholic, reflected on the political situation in Ireland.
“A third of Irish people—not an inconsiderable minority—voted to retain the constitutional protection for the unborn,” he told CNA. “They have been left unrepresented by the mainstream political establishment in Ireland, and this should concern everyone regardless of what their stance is on the issue of abortion.”
“Ireland is crying out for a new political movement,” Kelly said.
The mainstream political establishment is acting as if “the people have spoken and the debate is over.” The major political parties are becoming “cold houses” for pro-life voters. According to Kelly, the political establishment is ignoring “that the debate is never over.”
“Pro-life activists and voters will continue to cherish the unborn and this will remain a political priority for them,” he said. “They will work harder than ever to stand up for the dignity of unborn children and continue to educate people about the horror of abortion and the fact that there are better alternatives and that women and their children deserve better.”
Toibin said he would explore whether it is possible to gather pro-life voters into “a tight political organization that actually represents those views. Such a new party, in Toibin’s view, would not work to overturn the result of the abortion referendum but would seek tighter laws on abortion.
“Over time, abortion, wherever it is introduced, becomes normalized,” Kelly said. “Pro-life people must not let this happen.” They must insist that doctors, medical workers and other hospital workers have “the absolute right not to facilitate abortions in any way, shape or form.”
“The pro-life movement must try to work with people of goodwill all across the political spectrum to try to restore the culture of life,” he said. “No political order lasts forever.”
The party does not yet have a name. Its draft manifesto emphasizes housing, healthcare and education as human rights, while also backing fair wages for workers, “healthy functional enterprise,” economic incentives for risk-takers and investors, and an end to the excessive concentration of wealth. It is described as “Euro-critical” and opposed to European federalism and a European army. While Toibin’s future in Sinn Fein suffered from strict party discipline, the draft manifesto promises respect for the consciences of lawmakers.
Toibin has said the manifesto is subject to change as the party broadens its engagement.
In Kelly’s view, a new pro-life political movement “will have to be a ‘broad church’ and one that can appeal to people from various political backgrounds.” The pro-life vote is “very fractured at the moment.”
“Many pro-life voters remain reluctant voters for their traditional political party,” he said. Many people vote for the party that their families voted for, a habit that dates back to the Irish Civil War of 1922-1923.
“There is some evidence that this is changing and that people are willing to set aside old tribal loyalties,” said Kelly.
Sinn Fein competes in both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, which is under the government of the United Kingdom but has significant self-governing powers, including over abortion law.
The repeal of the Irish pro-life amendment has led to renewed efforts to expand abortion in Northern Ireland.
“All of the reputable polling indicates that this is opposed by the majority of citizens there,” said Kelly. “The spectacle of politicians in Dublin and London trying to impose abortion on Northern Ireland when the very heart of the 1998 peace agreement was that the people of Northern Ireland—and only the people of Northern Ireland—should decide the political direction of the region is appalling.”
Toibin appears to have some political support on both sides of the political border.
Declan McGuinness of Derry, the brother of Martin McGuinness, a leading Sinn Fein politician and former deputy first minister of Northern Ireland, has said he is working with Toibin.
In the Republic of Ireland, his movement has signed up two former Sinn Fein county councillors, the Irish newspaper The Journal reported Wednesday.
The organization has planned several open meetings around Ireland to develop the organization.
Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald, who succeeded the retiring Gerry Adams at the last party convention known by its Irish name, the Ard Fheis, voiced regret at Toibin’s resignation and said he was “a valued member of the the party.”
“Sinn Féin is home to a diversity of views; we debate and our members vote on policy at our Ard Fheis,” she said, adding that all elected representatives of the party are bound by its decisions.
Citing voter approval of the Eighth Amendment repeal, she said party members in parliament have the responsibility “to give effect to the people’s vote and to represent Sinn Fein policy,” the Irish newspaper the Independent reports.
“Unfortunately Peadar was unable to do this and was suspended from the party and has now taken the decision to resign.”
Toibin, who had previously faced sanction for opposing a 2013 bill that would legalize some abortions, said Sinn Fein goals of a united Ireland require a party that is “flexible, broad and inclusive.” He said he had worked “to make space within the party for people with a difference on this one issue.”
He claimed that since 2012 he had a written agreement with the party stating that, in his words, “the party would treat me equally and would not marginalize me due to my views on the right to life as long as I also gave the party view.”
“This deal worked well for four years at no cost to the party,” he said, claiming this agreement was “unilaterally binned.”
Kelly found the Sinn Féin leadership’s imposition of party discipline on abortion to be rigid, as well as “unacceptable and an affront to the free exercise of democracy.”
“His vote would not have delayed or changed the legislation,” said Kelly. “He was left with no option but to resign from a party that he has spent his entire adult life building and winning elections for.”
“Mr. Toibin has been courageous in risking his entire political career to stand up for the right to life of unborn children,” Kelly continued. “Those who have no voice of their own are his primary concern and there is no greater calling for a politician. He should be proud of this and I look forward to seeing the new political movement that he will found.”