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Priest banned Sinn Fein from meeting in his church hall over abortion stance, pro-life group claims

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Catherine Sewell

Catherine Sewell

St Patrick’s Hall in Coalisland

St Patrick’s Hall in Coalisland

Catherine Sewell

A priest has banned prominent members of Sinn Fein - including Michelle O'Neill - from holding a meeting in a Co Tyrone church hall because of the party's stance on abortion, a pro-life group has said.

The Sinn Fein vice-president and Mid Ulster MP Francie Molloy had been due to attend a meeting in a hall at St Patrick's Church, Coalisland, yesterday evening, the Belfast Telegraph understands.

However, local parish priest Fr Eugene O'Neill was alerted and intervened in order to prevent the gathering from taking place on church property, according to the Tyrone Pro-Life Network, an umbrella organisation for a number groups opposed to abortion.

It is understood the party was due to discuss the New Decade, New Approach deal with supporters.

Members of the wider republican movement had also been invited to attend.

Last night a Sinn Fein spokesman said the party had been due to hold a public meeting, but due to a "diary clash" it had been "rescheduled".

In an email to campaigners - reported by The Irish News - Fr O'Neill said he did not take the booking but once he became aware of it he stepped in and cancelled it.

"In light of their recent behaviour regarding the abortion debate and due to their long-running policy on pro-life matters I would not entertain the use of church property for any such meeting," the email said.

He also said as a charity the parish could not permit the venue to be used for political activity.

Catherine Sewell of the Tyrone Pro-Life Network thanked the priest for "withdrawing permission" from Sinn Fein to use the hall for their meeting, which she claimed would be used to "promote their radical pro-abortion policy".

"We got word late on Wednesday night that Sinn Fein were planning a meeting in the hall the next evening, at which Michelle 'the north is next' O'Neill, Francie Molloy and other prominent Sinn Fein politicians would expound upon recent developments," she said.

"As far as we are concerned, no pro-abortion outfit should be allowed to use Catholic Church property to crow about their role in bringing British abortion clinics into Tyrone."

Mrs Sewell said she subsequently began "mobilising" anti-abortion activists for a protest outside St Patrick's Hall, but said this was called off because of Fr O'Neill's swift intervention.

"Ultimately, our plan was to protest at the hall, but happily, as soon as the local parish priest discovered that such a meeting was planned, he immediately cancelled it," the campaigner added.

Mrs Sewell claimed Sinn Fein had been "thwarted" in its attempts to hold other party meetings in Catholic parochial halls recently in nearby Moy and Blackwatertown thanks to the "vigilance of the Tyrone Pro-Life Network".

"Sinn Fein politicians are deeply embarrassed by their party's radical pro-abortion agenda and we believe that they are trying to use Catholic Church property in order to confuse the public into somehow believing that the Church is okay with their abortion policies," she claimed.

Mrs Sewell also warned that despite abortion here being decriminalised by Westminster, pro-life groups are now "gearing up" to repeal the law.

Sinn Fein has supported reform of the law on abortion in Northern Ireland.

The campaigner added: "A new mandate is required (from the Assembly), one which reflects the pro-life views of the vast majority of our people." The Belfast Telegraph contacted the Catholic Church for a comment; however, no response was received at the time of going to press.

Fr O'Neill could not be reached for comment last night.

Earlier this month the Government said it was "working towards the laying of regulations for a new legal framework" on abortion, which will come into force by March 31, 2020.

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