The idea of Sinn Féin voters backing the DUP over abortion isn't as absurd as it sounds. But the prevailing trend goes the other wayby Kylie Noble / June 5, 2018 / Leave a comment
With the resounding support to repeal the 8th amendment from the Irish Constitution on May 25th, attention has almost inevitably turned to Northern Ireland, the only region in these islands that effectively bans abortion.
The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), the largest party in the region, who grew out of the minority fundamentalist Free Presbyterian Church, founded by the Reverend Ian Paisley in the 1970s. The party ardently opposes abortion in all cases from a conservative Christian perspective.
Now, leader Arlene Foster has claimed in an interview on Sky’s SophyRidge on Sunday programme this week that she has been sent emails from Sinn Féin voters commending the DUP’s stance.
In the interview, Ms Foster said: “I have had emails from nationalists and republicans in Northern Ireland not quite believing what is going on and saying they will be voting for the DUP because they believe we are the only party that supports the unborn.”
Furthermore, Ian Paisley junior, currently an MP, tweeted that he had been sent an email from a Roman Catholic Priest in his constituency thanking the DUP for its stance and that he will be urging his Parish to vote for the party due to their position on social issues. Naomi Long, leader of the moderate, anti-sectarian Alliance party tweeted in response that it was akin to getting a letter from a Nigerian Prince assuring the transfer of $10,000,000.
Given that one of the stalling blocks for getting Stormont in action again is the DUP’s opposition to same-sex marriage, it’s not surprising that majority reaction has been dismissal of the seeming absurdity of this.
However, as ridiculous as the DUP claims may appear, there are actually elements of truth to them. Whilst Sinn Féin are rejecting the claim entirely, it is worth noting that they long held a conservative stance on abortion.
Due to the rapid momentum the grassroots movement to repeal the 8th gathered in the last few years, Sinn Féin—a party that operates in the north and south of Ireland—was forced to confront contradictory positions within their ranks.
As recent as 2013, former Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland, Martin McGuinness, said in an interview with RTÉ at the party’s Ard Fheis [party conference]: “We are an anti-abortion party but we are also a party that recognises where there is a great risk to the life of the mother.”
“It was not until 2015 that party delegates passed motions in favour of repeal”
Whilst current party Vice President Michelle O’Neill was pictured holding a sign that ‘The North is Next’ with party President Mary Lou McDonald at celebrations outside Dublin Castle following the vote in the Republic last month, she opposed calls to publish a report examining abortion in cases of foetal abnormality as Northern Irish Health Minister in 2016.
It was not until 2015 that party delegates passed motions in favour of repealing the 8th amendment and permitting abortion in cases of fatal foetal abnormality—extending upon previous support for abortion only in cases of rape, incest or to save the life of a pregnant person.
Sinn Féin’s transition to taking a more pro-choice position has not been without opposition. Days before the referendum, the party suspended TD Carol Nolan for three months, the only TD of the party’s 23 in the Dáil to vote against repealing the 8th. In the north, two of the most prominent voices of discontent come from two former Sinn Féin politicians, husband and wife Anne and Francie Molloy.
Anne left the party whilst Francie remains a member, with both joining anti-abortion pressure group Cherish All The Children Equally in 2016. The group takes its name from the line in the Irish proclamation about “cherishing all the children of the nation equally.”
In this context, it is not ludicrous for the DUP to claim some nationalists are looking to them as guardians of morality on abortion.
However, any swing to the DUP is likely to be small, particularly compared to larger prevailing shifts in voter behaviour. In the latest Assembly election in 2017, Sinn Féin gained almost 4 per cent of an increase in votes, whilst the DUP lost over 1 per cent—the largest drop of all major parties.
With predictions that Roman Catholics will outnumber the Protestant population by 2021—the century of Northern Ireland’s creation—and recent research by the University of Liverpool finding that young Protestants are increasingly alienated from the DUP, alongside with cross-community frustration at the DUP’s pro-Brexit stance in a region that voted to remain, the party could soon find themselves in trouble.
It should be pointed out, too, that not all who vote DUP support their views on social issues, but find these bearable for the sake of supporting the union foremost. Ms Foster may want to consider that her party’s stance on issues such as abortion could, in the end, do them more harm than good.