A former Sinn Fein MLA has fiercely criticised his old party for its abortion stance, saying it strikes against republican values – and he now regrets having joined in the first place.
Francie Brolly, who quit the party several months ago, accused Sinn Fein of behaving like a “gang” at its recent ard fheis, which saw the party adopt a more liberalised abortion policy.
Whilst parties frequently treat abortion as a matter of individual conscience for their legislators, Sinn Fein’s new policy insists all TDs and MLAs must obey the party line on the matter, with one MEP loudly declaring “there is absolutely no space for a conscience clause”.
“A person is not free if his conscience isn’t free,” Mr Brolly said. “And if there’s no freedom, there’s no point in Sinn Fein talking about a republic.”
Both Mr Brolly and his wife Anne – a one-time Sinn Fein Limavady mayor – stressed their respect for the value of life, and insisted there can be no comparison between the IRA’s campaign, which cost thousands of lives, and the termination of foetuses.
Francie Brolly, now aged 80, joined Sinn Fein around the turn of the millennium shortly before being elected to Limavady Borough Council, and went on to be voted in as East Londonderry MLA twice.
He quit Sinn Fein this February over its increasingly pro-choice position. Mrs Brolly had already quit in 2016.
In the wake of the ard fheis, he told the News Letter the party saw the campaign to liberalise abortion as a “runaway juggernaut”.
“They’re not interested in morals. Political parties generally aren’t,” he said.
“They’re striking against republican values...
“Not allowing people to speak or vote according to their conscience goes totally against republicanism, because without freedom of conscience there isn’t any freedom – a person is not free if his conscience isn’t free.
“And if there’s no freedom, there’s no point in Sinn Fein talking about a republic.”
A retired teacher, he said he joined the party after being pressed by local republican activists.
“That’s all history, and it’s one of those unfortunate choices you make in life,” he said.
He said the Assembly was “a horrible experience; six years of absolute nonsense, listening to all sorts of rubbish”.
Asked if he regretted his Sinn Fein career, he said: “Absolutely. I don’t like party politics.
“I’ve expressed my opinion in recent years that political parties should be banned; that if a man wants to stand for election in his own community, he should do so on his own merit... rather than have to follow say – like this in Sinn Fein now – a dictation from an ard chomhairle [high council] which includes people like Gerry Adams, Mary Lou McDonald.
“Who should be subjected to that?
“I’ve likened political parties now to gangs. They’ve their gang leaders, and the ordinary member of a gang toes the line.”
He said “this latest instance with Sinn Fein, the abortion issue and the lack of respect for peoples’ conscience” just serve to “absolutely” reinforce this, he said.
“The British House of Commons, they’re a lot better on the idea of freedom of conscience,” he said.
This was echoed by Anne Brolly who said the rejection of a conscience clause “is anathema to republicanism, because republicanism is built on individual rights, the cornerstone of which is freedom of conscience”.
She said “only in dictatorship regimes” are party members not permitted conscience votes on the subject.
“I know there is a lot of disquiet [within the party] about what has happened with regard to the conscience vote, but also with regard to the policy on abortion,” she said.
“Equality is just for women according to them now. Because there’s no equality for the father – and many, many men have suffered the silent pain of lost fatherhood where both themselves and the baby are voiceless.”
Sinn Fein said in statement yesterday: “The Sinn Fein position on the issue of appropriate and compassionate healthcare services for women was democratically mandated on the floor of the party’s ard fheis.
“As legislators Sinn Fein public representatives have a responsibility to legislate for all in society rather than in line with their own personal views.
“So while everyone has their own view the ard fheis has democratically and overwhelmingly set party policy and the party’s elected representatives have a responsibility to respect that policy and to vote for it.”
WHAT IS SINN FEIN’S ABORTION STANCE?
The Brollys were speaking to the News Letter after the ard fheis on Saturday voted to effectively endorse abortions for any reason up to 12 weeks, and left the door open for such abortions later in term.
The party’s old stance was “abortion should be available where a woman’s life, health or mental health is at risk and in cases of fatal foetal abnormality and in the case of rape or sexual abuse”.
The new policy also explicitly rules out conscientious objection, stressing MLAs and TDs “shall act in line with the view of the ard chomhairle (party high council)”.
Delegates at the party conference in Belfast’s Waterfront Hall cheered and applauded when it was announced the party was rejecting freedom of conscience on abortion for its legislators.
Paramilitary-turned-MEP Martina Anderson told delegates “there is absolutely no space for a conscience clause – this is a cop out when it comes to standing up for the rights of women”, before roaring “the north is next!” as the announcer repeatedly told her to wind up her speech.
Carol Nolan, Sinn Fein Offaly TD, quit the party on Tuesday due to the new stance.