Mary Lou McDonald: We won't let women in north be marooned

Mary Lou McDonald and Michelle O'Neill celebrate the 'Yes' victory in the abortion referendum
Mary Lou McDonald and Michelle O'Neill celebrate the 'Yes' victory in the abortion referendum

SINN Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald has pledged that women in the north “will not be left marooned” following the Republic’s abortion referendum – and said new legislation should allow them access to services south of the border.

In an interview with The Irish News following Saturday’s landslide vote, Ms McDonald said it would be “unthinkable” if a woman in a border town such as Dundalk with a diagnosis of fatal foetal abnormality could have have an abortion but a woman “up the road” in Newry could not.

“As the legislation goes into the real process, through committee and so on, a lot of issues, including the question of women from the north - huge numbers of whom of course are Irish citizens and carry Irish passports and will have to have their rights vindicated – will have to be accommodated, facilitated and resourced... so we need to apply ourselves to that,” she said.

“Services like this and support for women can’t be unequal across Ireland. For us it would be extremely important that women are cared for, that women are supported, that doctors are free to care for women in sometimes very traumatic circumstances irrespective of which part of Ireland they live in.

“I can only hope that Brexit and the potential for huge disruption that it presents... that it won’t have an effect in terms of women accessing services including health services on an all-Ireland basis.”

Ms McDonald said the referendum campaign was like “no other” she had been involved with and described the atmosphere in Dublin over the weekend as “incredible”.

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“The marriage equality referendum was a revolution but this brought it to another level. This was women and their families, real stories, real experiences, real lives. People who understand that life isn’t black and white - and that that kind of very absolutist view simply doesn’t cater for human experience and for real life,” she said.

The Dublin TD said she had been “particularly struck” by the involvement of people from the north in the ‘Yes’ campaign.

“In so many ways this has been an all-Ireland conversation.

"I know people came from the north came and campaigned on it – so we’ve no intention of allowing women in the north to be left marooned and left in an impossible and very often heartbreaking position.”

While Sinn Féin’s current party policy only supports abortion when a mother’s life or health is at risk, and in cases of rape, incest and fatal foetal abnormalities, Ms McDonald said she will bring forward a motion at its ard fheis in Belfast next month supporting plans to allow terminations up to 12 weeks into pregnancy.

She admitted this will be “difficult” for some party members .

Sinn Féin TD Peadar Tóibín canvassed for a ‘No’ vote and even appeared in a RTE debate.

“Let me say I recognise that this for many people is a challenging issue, a sensitive issue – but I’m pleased to report that we’re having a very respectful and increasingly informed conversation," she said.

"When we bring that motion to the Ard Fheis and I hope that meets with the support of our members - that means it will be Sinn Féin policy for all of Ireland."

Amid calls from British MPs for Theresa May's government to intervene to liberalise Northern Ireland’s strict abortion laws in the absence of power-sharing, Ms McDonald insisted the issue should be addressed by devolved institutions – and accused the DUP of being out of step.

“There is an echo of the referendum on marriage equality here where we move forward to recognise people’s rights to marry who they choose and who they love.

"Now here we go again and it’s real problem particularly if unionism, or the Democratic Unionist party to be more specific, insist on holding back the tide of change.”