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Hibernians in US 'ban' pro-choice Irish parties from annual big bash

By Victoria Leonard

The Ancient Order of Hibernians (AOH) in America has decided not to invite leaders of pro-choice Irish political parties to speak at its annual convention this year.

The Irish-American Catholic fraternal organisation has thousands of members, and operates as a separate, sister organisation to the Ancient Order of Hibernians here.

The US branch recently passed a pro-life resolution in which it "pledged to protect all life from conception to natural death and to accept and support without prejudice the free expression of religious practice for the people of the world".

The group has previously invited politicians, including Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald, to speak at its national convention.

However, following the Republic's referendum result in favour of abortion law reform in May of this year, the organisation decided not to extend the invitation to pro-choice political leaders.

Instead, diplomats such as Irish ambassador to America Daniel Mulhall were invited to speak.

Last Monday a message was posted on the Tyrone AOH Facebook page saying "our St Joseph's Pro-Life Division Dungannon has commended the American Hibernians for rescinding an invitation to Sinn Fein's Mary Lou McDonald to speak at the convention".

It added: "Sinn Fein's radical pro-abortion policies scuppered McDonald's ambitions."

Hours later the word "rescinding" was changed to "not inviting", and the post was removed altogether on Tuesday.

Speaking from Ohio, national vice president of the AOH in America Danny O'Connell said his organisation had "specifically chosen not to invite political parties because of pro-life issues going on in Ireland".

"Mary Lou McDonald was not invited to speak this year, she has spoken in the past, but AOH is a pro-life organisation and we did pass a pro-life resolution," Mr O'Connell said.

"We were not singling out Sinn Fein.

"The SDLP, Sinn Fein, Fianna Fail - the same standard would be applied to everyone."

Membership of the AOH in America is confined to men aged 16 and over who are practising Catholics of Irish birth or descent and are US citizens, or who have declared their intentions to become US citizens.

The AOH in Ireland is a Catholic society founded for the protection and promotion of the interests of the Catholic faith and of the Irish nation.

"As a Catholic society we are guided by the teachings of the Catholic Church," it said.

"As such, we support the Eighth Amendment."

Sinn Fein responded: "Whoever is invited to speak at the national convention is a matter for the Ancient Order of Hibernians."

Fianna Fail said it was "unaware of any invitation being withheld from the Ancient Order of Hibernians".

It said that party ministers had previously addressed the organisation in the US on St Patrick's Day.

The added: "Fianna Fail has had a vote of conscience on the Eighth Amendment since 2013 and it was the first party to allow its members to vote accordingly.

"Other parties followed. Fianna Fail is invited to address many organisations on a weekly basis and has never been requested not to address any particular issue.

"This would not be normal practice."

The SDLP said it was a "pro-life party".

It added: "As agreed at our conference on May 19, elected representatives have the freedom to vote in accordance with their conscience on this issue."

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