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Sinn Fein party line on abortion takes some by surprise at Ard Fheis

By Liam Clarke

For some observers, the most surprising thing at the Sinn Fein Ard Fheis was its fairly permissive attitude on abortion and its strong support for gay marriage.

News of that was syndicated in America.

Two important decisions were taken on abortion at the conference.

The first supported the right of a woman to an abortion in the case of a fatal foetal abnormality. This is one of the measures out to consultation by David Ford, the Justice Minister, and it guarantees that Sinn Fein will support this minimal change in the law.

Arguably more important is the party's decision to back changes in article 8 of the Irish Constitution which gives the life of an "unborn child" the same protection as a mother. If Sinn Fein succeeds in getting that change then referenda will no longer be necessary for further changes.

In Northern Ireland, pro-life campaigners will be quick to point out that the SDLP favours the status quo and some of its members are prominent on the official pro-life committees in Westminster and Stormont. It remains to be seen whether this will give the smaller party an advantage.

Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams personally supported the motion.

He later told the BBC: "We have to be very compassionate about this".

In another break with tradition, same-sex marriage, which is banned in both Northern Ireland and the Republic, was overwhelmingly endorsed.

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