Anne and Francie Brolly join new anti-abortion group
TWO former Sinn Féin politicians have emerged as leading figures in a new pressure group formed to oppose abortion on both sides of the border.
Anne and Francie Brolly, from Dungiven in Co Derry, are members of Cherish All The Children Equally which held its first meeting in the north last weekend.
Mrs Brolly told the Irish News she has left Sinn Féin over its stance on the abortion, while her husband said he is attempting to bring about change from within the party.
It is understood several former elected representatives and people with current links to the party attended the group's recent meeting in Cookstown, Co Tyrone.
It has been formed by republicans to oppose the relaxation of abortion laws in the north and repeal of the Eight Amendment of the Republic’s constitution which protects the right to life of the unborn.
Britain’s 1967 Abortion Act does not extend to Northern Ireland but terminations are allowed when a woman’s life is at risk or if there is a risk to her long-term mental and physical health.
In February this year MLAs voted against legalising abortion in cases of 'fatal foetal abnormality', which some campaigners dispute is a recognised medical condition.
The Alliance proposal was supported by Sinn Féin and the UUP while the SDLP and DUP opposed it.
Mrs Brolly said the new group is rooted in the sentiments expressed in the 1916 proclamation of “cherishing all of the children of the nation equally”.
She said they intend to distribute 100,000 leaflets throughout Ireland and canvass door to door in the coming months.
“Our organisation is a human rights organisation,” she said.
“You can be a Catholic, a Protestant, an atheist and all kinds of political affiliations and none, we are there to fight for the rights of the unborn child."
Before entering politics Mrs Brolly and her husband Francie were well known on the music scene across Ireland.
The couple’s son Joe is also a former Derry All-Ireland winner and a high-profile Gaelic games pundit with RTE.
Mrs Brolly was first elected to Limavady council in 2001 and served there until retiring from politics in 2014.
The former teacher later allowed her membership of Sinn Féin to lapse.
In 2015 the party passed a motion supporting abortion in limited cases where doctors believe an unborn child will die either in the womb or shortly after birth.
Ms Brolly, who described herself as a life-long republican, said this was a deal breaker for her.
“I would be prepared to accept Sinn Féin on many levels and I will always support them on their ultimate aim towards a united Ireland, but this was step too far for me."
At Sinn Féin’s 2014 ard fheis members also rejected a motion proposing to give elected representatives a free “conscience vote” on abortion.
“What we have had is a system within the political process where the whip has been used and as far as we are concerned the whip is anti-democratic when it comes to a vote of conscience,” Mrs Brolly said.
She claimed other Sinn Féin members have also left the party in recent years because of its position on abortion.
Francie Brolly said he decided to remain despite his reservations.
A former republican internee, Mr Brolly was a Sinn Féin assembly member for East Derry between 2003-09.
He said he has written to the party to outline his concerns on abortion but didn’t get a “great response”.
“I am working inside Sinn Féin to try and change that,” he said.
“I will continue to do that.
“So far basically the leadership have got back to me and we have agreed to differ.
“I have not been hugely successful in changing hearts and minds.”
The retired school teacher, who is known for his love of Irish culture, music and language, said he considered leaving Sinn Féin in the past.
“Along with other people in Sinn Féin the question came up, do you walk away or stay and try and change it,” he said.
“That’s the choice I have and I decided to stay in and try to change it.”
Mr Brolly said he has “no doubt that a substantial number” of people in Sinn Féin “would like their voice to be heard and they would not be agreeing with moving towards having an abortion culture”.
He claimed the issue is important to ordinary republicans across the north and believes Cherish All The Children Equally will give them a voice.
“In the rural north, Sinn Féin country, this is a big, big issue,” he said.
“This group will give people the opportunity to let their political parties known if they are going to follow a route against their conscience.”
It is understood Catherine Sewell, who is a member of the recently established St Joseph’s Pro Life Ancient Order of Hibernians division, has been appointed as the new group’s liaison officer.
Cherish All The Children Equally will hold a public meeting at the GAA Centre of Excellence at Owenbeg, near Dungiven, Co Derry, on Thursday November 17.