MORE than 50,000 pro-life supporters marched on Leinster House yesterday in the first public protest since the expulsion of four Fine Gael TDs who failed to support the Government's abortion legislation.
The rally heard repeated calls for the Government to again put the issue of abortion to the people in another referendum.
A large force of gardai was deployed on O'Connell Street as the pro-life march ran the gauntlet of some 400 pro-choice supporters who lined both sides of the street near the Spire.
The "All-Ireland Rally for Life" was addressed by several speakers including the founder of the Libertas movement, Declan Ganley, and Niamh Ui Bhriain of the Life Institute as well as representatives of Youth Defence.
Pro-life groups from all parts of the country were represented at the march, and the numbers swelled at the rally in Kildare Street outside the Dail.
Although gardai said the crowd was about 50,000, the organisers claimed 60,000 people attended.
They said people were still marching past the GPO at the same time as the Kildare Street rally and speeches were under way.
Mr Ganley called on the Government to put the issue of abortion to the people in a referendum, and reminded Taoiseach Enda Kenny that every conscience matters.
He said the Fine Gael leader had made a grave error in breaking his promise.
"This Taoiseach has lost his way in the most fundamental way," he said.
"He has broken a promise about something more than money or power – he has broken his promise on human life itself."
Mr Ganley, who appears intent on forming a new political party to contest next year's local and European elections, said one of the reasons he wanted to speak at the rally was because abortion was deeply personal to him.
"When my wife Delia was pregnant with one of our four children we were told that our baby had 'abnormalities', he said.
"We were advised by a doctor in New York that we should have an abortion.
"The doctor explained that under the circumstances he was legally required to recommend an abortion. Of course, my wife said no.
"Today that child is healthy and happy and one of the four greatest gifts our family has ever been given."
The four Fine Gael deputies who have been expelled, and junior minister Lucinda Creighton, were cheered as Mr Ganley thanked them for "keeping their promise to the Irish people".
He said the Fine Gael rebels and those from other parties deserved the thanks of all those opposed abortion.
"We thank Colm Keaveney, who put his principles ahead of his career in politics," he said.
"We thank Billy Timmins, an officer and a gentleman patriot, who walked away from a career in Fine Gael to stand on the side of those who needed him.
"We thank Lucinda Creighton, who has stood firmly and with outstanding courage for her most deeply held convictions, and we thank Brian Walsh and Peter Mathews and Terence Flanagan who stood up when all the voices around them were screaming sit down and stay quiet."
Joining Mr Ganley on the podium was controversial Independent Tipperary TD Mattie McGrath.
Earlier, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin said in a homily at Mass in the St Saviour's Church, Dominick Street, Dublin, that the Christian message is a message that respects life and respects every human life, from the moment of conception to the moment of natural death.
"It respects the life of the unborn, it cherishes and wishes to protect the lives of mothers and mothers to be," he said.