Northern Ireland

Catholic priest cancels Sinn Féin meeting in Co Tyrone over abortion

St Patrick's Hall in Coalisland where Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill was set to address a meeting 
St Patrick's Hall in Coalisland where Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill was set to address a meeting 

A CATHOLIC priest has cancelled a Sinn Féin meeting at a church-owned hall in Co Tyrone over the party’s support for abortion legislation.

It is understood that Fr Eugene O’Neill scrubbed a booking for St Patrick’s Hall in Coalisland after being contacted by pro-life campaigners.

Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill had been expected to attend the public meeting last night to provide an update on recent political developments.

Ms O’Neill, who represents the area, lives in the neighbouring parish of Clonoe.

In 2018 members of Sinn Féin voted to support making abortion available, a move that prompted the resignation of some members across Ireland.

Fr O’Neill could not be contacted for comment last night.

St Patrick's Hall in Coalisland
St Patrick's Hall in Coalisland

However, in an email to campaigners he said he did not take the booking but once he became aware of it he contacted "Sinn Féin offices to cancel it immediately”.

The south Armagh native added: “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 priest added: “Further, as a charity the parish is not legally permitted to use church property for any political activity whatsoever.”

A message posted on a Sinn Féin Coalisland/Clonoe Martyrs Facebook page yesterday said the meeting had been cancelled because Ms O’Neill was unable to attend.

“Apologies for the short notice, but the meeting tonight is cancelled,” it read.

“This is due to Michelle’s schedule as she is not able to attend.

“We will be arranging this meeting soon again.”

Tyrone Pro-Life Network spokeswoman Catherine Sewell thanked Fr O’Neill, saying campaigners had planned to picket the meeting.

“As far as we are concerned, no pro-abortion outfit should be allowed to use Catholic Church property,” she said.

“We determined to stop them and immediately began a mobilisation of activists."

Anti-abortion group Precious Life also welcomed the development.

Precious Life spokeswoman Bernie Smyth
Precious Life spokeswoman Bernie Smyth

Spokeswoman Bernadette Smyth said: “Fr. Eugene O'Neill has stood up for the faithful and strongly reaffirmed church teaching.

“He has informed us he was not aware of this meeting, but that he contacted Sinn Fein, who have a radical pro-abortion position, to cancel this meeting as soon as people responded to our action alert.”