Belfast Telegraph

SDLP leader defends suspensions over anti-abortion 'intimidation' vote

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood has defended his party's decision to suspend three members after they failed to support a motion calling for women not to be intimidated by anti-abortion campaigners.

Mr Eastwood insisted the disciplinary action was not about abortion, but was about the harassment and intimidation of individuals.

He warned other party members that they too could face suspension if they strayed outside party policy.

The three Belfast councillors - Pat Convery, Declan Boyle and Kate Mullan - were suspended after they abstained from voting for a motion to condemn harassment of women by pro-life supporters as they entered advice clinics.

The motion was proposed on Monday, at a meeting of Belfast City Council, by the Green Party's Georgina Milne.

She said she had been contacted by reproductive clinics concerned that people using their services were being forced to "run a gauntlet of intimidation and harassment" as they entered their centres.

The SDLP had instructed all of its councillors to support the motion.

"The party's position is clear. We have been against the harassment and intimidation of anyone since our foundation," Mr Eastwood said.

"The party councillors were told how they were supposed to vote. The majority voted the right way, the people who didn't have been suspended.

"That's an internal party disciplinary matter. That's what happens and that will happen to anybody else who goes against party policy," he added.

Mr Eastwood said the incident is not about abortion.

"This is about the harassment of individuals walking down the street. We stand against that. We have always stood against it. People who want to be members of the SDLP should stand with us on that."

Following his suspension, councillor Declan Boyle said he did not regret abstaining to vote.

However, Mr Eastwood said Mr Boyle "should think very clearly about that".

He added: "The party has internal disciplinary procedures. They are not finished yet and how people act in the coming days and weeks will obviously inform those procedures."

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