Sinn Fein’s performance in the recent General Election struck the political establishment like a thunderbolt. Opinion polls a week out from the election strongly hinted what was coming but it didn’t ease the surprise when it happened.
It remains to be seen what their newfound prominence in the Dáil will mean in a wider political sense but on the pro-life front, Sinn Féin is not a friend of the unborn. Their stance in the 2018 referendum was stridently pro-abortion. And just a few months ago they smoothed the way for Westminster to impose an extreme abortion law on Northern Ireland.
If you were to judge the General Election outcome solely on the rise of Sinn Féin, all would appear bleak from a pro-life perspective. But something quite extraordinary also happened in the election. All 15 of the TDs who opposed the Government’s abortion law in the Dáil were comfortably re-elected.
Some had their chances of re-election completely written off by much of the media, others had to overcome huge opposition within their parties because of their pro-life stance – and yet they all prevailed. If nothing else, it’s proof that a significant chunk of electorate admires people who stick to their principles and stand for something.
In contrast, 23 abortion-supporting TDs lost their seats in the election. It would be a stretch to claim outright that their pro-repeal stances cost them their seats, but at the very least we know their support for abortion didn’t save them. And it’s clear from the results that the pro-abortion positions adopted by the leadership of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil didn’t produce the political dividend they expected. Leo Varadkar’s decision to refer to pro-life politicians as “backwoodsmen” in the closing days of the election campaign also backfired.
But what backfired much more was Micheál Martin’s decision some years back to present Fianna Fáil as an abortion-supporting party. In doing so, he dismissed the party’s official pro-life position that received 80% backing from members at the 2017 Ard Fheis. When the ‘Yes’ side won the referendum, Micheál Martin was praised for “calling the referendum right”. He was even crowned ‘Politician of the Year’ by the Irish Times in 2018 for his pro-repeal stance. The political value of this coveted award lasted 24 hours.
Two years on, and at a much deeper and personal level, the betrayal felt by pro-life supporters was seen in the polling booths across the country on 8th February. It’s important not to overstate what happened in the General Election but there was a visible pattern of pro-life voting, not evident in previous elections.
The political lead up to the abortion referendum in 2018 seems to have stayed with people. The decision of Micheál Martin, for example, to abdicate his role as leader of the opposition by refusing to scrutinise the Government’s extreme abortion proposal is still viewed by many as contributing significantly to the passage of the referendum. The fact as well that the leadership of Fianna Fáil even refused to back amendments, like allowing pain relief for unborn babies during late term abortions, still rankles and upsets many people including Fianna Fáil supporters nationwide.
Politicians are quick to claim on the eve of elections that they are ‘pro-life’. But pro-life supporters have witnessed enough in recent years not to fall for that. Who they vote for depends on the candidate’s record, not what they say. The comprehensive lists with the record of every candidate on abortion, compiled by the Pro Life Campaign and others in the run up to the recent General Election, proved an invaluable resource to voters.
The road back for the pro-life movement will not be easy. Many of the falsehoods pushed by the pro-abortion lobby are embedded deeply into the public psyche. As American writer Mark Twain once remarked: “It’s easier to fool people than to convince them that they have been fooled.”
That’s just a fact of life. It’s not a reason to lose hope. Quite the opposite. It’s hugely encouraging to see new pro-life TDs elected, joining existing pro-life politicians in the Dáil. We owe an enormous debt of gratitude to all our elected pro-life representatives for the courage and leadership they are showing. Against all the odds, the pro-life side fared much better in the recent election than commentators predicted. Let’s take heart from that and commit to working even harder to fix what has been broken, for our country and for the sake of mums and their unborn babies.
Eilís Mulroy is a spokesperson for the Pro Life Campaign www.prolifecampaign. ie