News Analysis

Ireland’s new pro-life party faces a critical test

Pro-life 'Save the 8th' Rally in Dublin on March 10, 2018 (Courtesy photo/CNA)

Aontú, which describes itself as Ireland’s fastest-growing political party, has set its sights on forthcoming elections in both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. The 10-month-old party, whose name means “unity” and “agreement” in Irish, is the only all-Ireland pro-life party. 

Led by ex-Sinn Féin deputy Peadar Tóibín, Aontú hopes to give voice to the third of the Irish electorate who voted against abortion in last year’s referendum.  

After two elections, it has attracted 35,000 votes and currently holds six council seats, as well as Tóibín’s existing seat in Dáil Éireann (the lower house of the Irish parliament). The party stood seven candidates in December’s election in Northern Ireland and hopes to contest 20 out of 40 constituencies in the next general election in the South. 

Tóibín insists that Aontú is not a single-issue party. The right to life is “certainly not all we are”, he tells me. Aontú leans undeniably left on issues like economics, migration and climate change. The big question is whether conservative pro-lifers will vote for the party even if they disagree with these policies.  

Many pro-lifers want politicians to support family life. Aontú’s approach is certainly better than most. Tóibín says that the family is the most important unit of society and deserves support within the social and economic spheres. His party does not take a position on same-sex marriage, but it opposes what it defines as extreme secularism, media bias, the current sex education being pushed in schools, and anything stunting freedom of conscience or speech.  

Tóibín says Aontú believes in pluralism and seeks to build a society in which people of all faiths and none can live together harmoniously. He describes the party as a diverse alliance, with members joining from Sinn Féin, Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and even the Green Party, People Before Profit and Labour. But he also recognises that the party “can’t be everything to everybody” and has to “settle on very clear policies for people to understand who we are”.  

In the current left-liberal climate in which profession of one’s Catholic faith can be tantamount to social suicide, pluralism has a certain appeal. But while it is necessary for people of different beliefs to coexist in a pluralistic society, pluralism as a philosophy can be dangerous. Philosophical pluralism sees any standard of morality or objective truth as an imposition on personal freedom. This has undoubtedly led to today’s relativistic society. 

Clearly Aontú is happy to break with philosophical pluralism on the issue of life, and that is an example of the kind of courage Irish politics needs. If the party can further develop policies that line up with the views of typical pro-life voters, it might find growth and lasting success. If, however, the party tries to be all things to all people, there are already enough parties pushing pluralism and inclusivity in the pursuit of votes.  

Yet any criticism of Aontú has to be considered alongside a warning from Tóibín. “The early days of this organisation are critical for survival and roots being put down,” he says. “There is nobody else coming after us.” Essentially, if there are people sitting on the fence and “waiting to see what will happen”, Tóibín says, “This is it.” He encourages anyone who can buy into 60 to 70 per cent of Aontú’s politics to “come with us”. 

The Irish electorate is crying out for a genuinely conservative option, and Aontú is a welcome start. While a pro-life party is desperately needed and should be given as much support as possible, one can only hope that Aontú’s policies develop so as not to force voters to abandon other traditional values. If Aontú can attract grassroots support demanding more conservative policies, we may finally see a party capable of breaking the mould of Ireland’s stagnant politics.