Anti-abortion campaigners vow to challenge Sinn Fein at the polls

Anti-abortion protesters gathered outside Michelle O'Neill's constituency office in Coalisland on Wednesday morning.
Anti-abortion protesters gathered outside Michelle O'Neill's constituency office in Coalisland on Wednesday morning.

A pro-life group fighting moves to relax Northern Ireland’s abortion laws has vowed to challenge Sinn Fein at next year’s local government elections.

Members of a group calling itself Tyrone Pro-Life Network, which claims to have strong republican links, gathered outside Sinn Fein vice-president Michelle O’Neill’s constituency office in Coalisland this morning to stage a “silent protest” against the party’s stance on the abortion issue.

Doris Vincent and Catherine Sewell make their point outside Michelle O'Neill's office in Coalisland.

Doris Vincent and Catherine Sewell make their point outside Michelle O'Neill's office in Coalisland.

The protesters – an amalgam of local pro-life groups – said the protest marked the launch of a “relentless opposition” campaign to Sinn Fein abortion policy.

Earlier this month, delegates at the republican party’s Ard Fheis in Belfast voted to change the party’s position on abortion, comprehensively backing a leadership motion stating that women should have access to abortions within “a limited gestational period”.

The party is now able to support proposed changes to the law in the Irish Republic, which are expected to allow women to have abortions within the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.

A small number of anti-abortion activists stood outside the Mid Ulster MLA’s office holding placards carrying slogans such as ‘Every life matters. Abortion is not the answer’ and ‘The North Says No’.

Members of the Tyrone Pro-Life Network staging their silent protest in Coalisland.

Members of the Tyrone Pro-Life Network staging their silent protest in Coalisland.

The group, which is demanding a referendum on abortion in Northern Ireland, said Ms O’Neill is the “chief focus of the campaign.”

A statement issued by the Tyrone Pro-Life Network said there was “widespread disgust” among many republicans to the Sinn Fein leadership’s “liberal abortion policies”.

Stressing that “many of those involved in the campaign are from strong republican families in the county”, the group has warned that Sinn Fein “will soon feel the brunt of this at the polls.”

The statement, issued ahead of the protest, said: “Among those campaigning is Doris Vincent, a relative of IRA member Patrick Vincent who was one of four IRA men killed by British forces in nearby Clonoe in 1992. A strong opponent of abortion, Doris Vincent condemned the recent SF Ard Fheis in Belfast for denying members the right to exercise their conscience on the issue. She said that republicans ‘abhor dictatorship’ of this nature.

“Following the picket, those gathered will pray the rosary outside the Coalisland SF office. Their specific prayer will be that Michelle O’Neill will never be permitted the opportunity to introduce laws that will lead to the murder of a single unborn child.”

Stressing that pro-life groups in the Tyrone area are “well organised and highly motivated”, the Tyrone Pro-Life Network statement pointed to the loss of Michelle Gildernew’s Fermanagh/South Tyrone Westminster seat in 2015 and the drop of more than 6,000 votes for Sinn Fein in the recent West Tyrone by-election, claiming both were due to the party’s stance on abortion.

“The pro-life activists have promised a long, hot summer for SF in Tyrone and challenges at next year’s local council elections,” the statement added.