saints and shinners Ex-IRA chief leads anti-abortion protest at Sinn Féin office evoking memory of Bobby Sands
'Voters need to know Sinn Féin is now pro-abortion and the party has utterly betrayed the legacy, vision and hopes of brave people like Bobby Sands'
It’s safe to say it wasn’t the type of protest Sinn Féin expected to find outside their constituency office in Coalisland this week – a group of people on their knees saying the Rosary.
And leading them was a former IRA commander who spearheaded the terror group’s war in the staunchly republican district.
Gerry McGeough claims Sinn Féin leaders should hang their heads in shame over their policy on abortion and evoked the memory of IRA hunger strike hero Bobby Sands.
The former republican prisoner was speaking at the very spot in Coalisland, where 41 years before, he had celebrated the historic election victory of the republican prisoner as MP for Fermanagh South Tyrone.
And McGeough said this week that if republicans back then had voiced support for abortion on the day Sands was elected, they would have been “strung up to the nearest tree”.
“There’s no doubt about it, if republicans had mentioned support for abortion, they would have been lynched” he told the Sunday World.
“Because the date of the election – May 5 – coincides with the anniversary of Bobby Sands’ death, there’s no doubt Sinn Féin will exploit it,” he claimed.
“Bobby Sands is often recalled for his quote on the laughter of our children.
“But an Irish child discarded into a cold steel bucket in an abortion clinic will never know the joy of laughter.
“Voters need to know Sinn Féin is now pro-abortion and the party has utterly betrayed the legacy, vision and hopes of brave people like Bobby Sands,” ranted McGeough. Despite McGeough’s claims about republicans not supporting abortion, recent polls have shown a clear majority of people in Northern Ireland don’t think that abortion should be a crime.
A poll in 2018 showed support for reforming the laws crossed the political divide, with 72 per cent of people wanting abortion to be decriminalised in cases of rape or incest.
A total of 69 per cent of those polled backed allowing abortion in cases of fatal foetal abnormality – where medical professionals have deemed there no chance of the foetus surviving.
This week, a group of men carried a large statue of the Virgin Mother on a wooden platform throughout the protest and vowed to hold similar protests outside Sinn Féin offices and the offices of other parties it says are backing abortion.
McGeough – who was jailed in Britain, Germany and America for his IRA activities including attempting to buy surface-to-air missiles – has a vivid recollection of celebrating Sands’ electoral success in Coalisland.
“All the British soldiers could do as they hid inside the RUC barracks was to make obscene gestures to the people from behind their bulletproof gun turrets,” said McGeogh, who had worked on the Sands election team.
“Had a member of Sinn Féin got up on a soap-box and announced that the Irish Republican Movement... would work closely with the successors to Margaret Thatcher’s Tories to bring British abortion clinics into Northern Ireland, I suspect that individual would have been lynched.”
Outside the party’s Coalisland offices – which is also the party’s northern leader Michelle O’Neill’s election HQ – McGeough and his colleagues placed small white crosses and recited the Rosary.
“The crosses are in memory of the thousands of unborn babies who died as a result of the British abortion laws foisted on the six counties by the British government with the support of Sinn Féin,” said Pro-Life campaigner Catherine Sewell.
“And we offer the Rosary, not only for the souls of these babies, but also for their parents too.”
She said the group was determined to bring their campaign onto the streets, even it is was prevented from protesting outside abortion clinics.
The Sunday World contacted Sinn Féin on Friday for a response, but no one was available.
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