Wednesday 22 October 2014

Abortion tapes sting: Labour duo reveal plan to liberalise law bit by bit

Fine Gael fears that Labour wants to usher in 'abortion on demand' confirmed by recordings

DANIEL McCONNELL and MAEVE SHEEHAN

Published 28/04/2013 | 05:00

TWO Labour TDs, who were secretly recorded by a pro-life activist purporting to be pro-choice, have revealed their party's intention to further liberalise Ireland's abortion laws once legislation for the X Case has been passed.

Dublin North Central TD Aodhan O Riordain said the X Case legislation was only "a starting point" but added that he said he would not state this publicly, while Wicklow TD Anne Ferris said that attempts to widen the legislation would commence in the next Government, should Labour remain in office.

Ms Ferris said: "We will legislate certainly for what the European Court has told us to and then we can go further than that . . . we get the first part done and then we will go on to the next bit."

She added: "People aren't going to vote Fianna Fail back into power again, so I would say then next term it will happen."

In relation to the X Case legislation, Mr O Riordain said: "It is a starting point. Once you get that . . . then you can move . . . and of course if I'm on the radio and somebody says to me, 'It's a starting point for abortion on demand', I'm gonna say, 'No, of course it isn't – it is what it is.'"

The Labour TDs' comments will cause outrage this weekend among Fine Gael TDs and senators, who are already riven by the issue.

The most commonly expressed fear in Fine Gael is that legislating for the X Case will "open the door" to abortion on demand.

The Fine Gael Parliamentary Party will be particularly incensed by Ms Ferris's recorded comment that Labour leader Eamon Gilmore had told the Taoiseach that Mr Kenny "has to whip his people into line".

Edited transcripts of the conversations, which were recorded at the TDs' constituency offices last June, are published in the Sunday Independent today.

The draft terms of the controversial X Case legislation are to go to Cabinet on Tuesday. This newspaper has confirmed the identity of the young woman who covertly recorded the conversations with the two TDs on her mobile phone without their knowledge or consent. The woman, who described herself as "pro-life", said that she targeted the two Labour TDs and led them into a discussion on abortion in what she claimed was the "public interest".

She released the tapes of the sting on condition that her identity would not be disclosed. However, she indicated that her motive was to expose what she called the "duplicitousness" of politicians.

Asked about her actions, which some would see as deception or entrapment, she replied: "They are public representatives. And I think if a public representative is saying one thing in public but reassuring a select group of activists who support them on (that) one issue in private . . . that is something that is of massive concern and that's something that the public needs to know about."

The conversations took place in June after the defeat of independent TD Clare Daly's first private members' bill, which sought to legislate on the X Case – four months before the death of Savita Halappanavar.

The tapes were brought to the attention of the Sunday Independent by freelance journalist Rory Fitzgerald, who has written extensively on the abortion issue. This newspaper has had the tapes examined by a professional sound engineer, who was able to state that they were recordings of individual conversations and that there was no evidence that they had been edited or otherwise interfered or tampered with in any way.

A Fine Gael Parliamentary Party meeting last Wednesday night was dominated by the abortion issue and was described as "the most contentious within the lifetime of this Government".

The Taoiseach came under attack from several members of the party, including junior European minister Lucinda Creighton, rebel Waterford TD John Deasy and Dublin South TD Peter Mathews.

Up until this weekend, observers estimated that about six members of the Fine Gael Parliamentary Party would vote against the abortion legislation. However today's revelations will undoubtedly lead to more pressure to oppose the X case legislation.

Yesterday, Mr O Riordain expressed his deep disappointment at being taped against his will.

He said: "This was a taped conversation and I wasn't willing to be taped and I am pretty disappointed that you are touching it – and that is pretty much all I have to say."

Extensive efforts to contact Ms Ferris this weekend were unsuccessful.

However, a spokesman for the Labour Party yesterday said Ms Ferris's statements on tape were "her personal views".

The spokesman added: "It was in the party's manifesto and in the Programme for Government that we would legislate for the X Case, and that is the party's position."

On the tape, Mr O Riordain outlined some of the reasoning behind the formation of the Expert Group, which provided the framework for the X Case legislation. He said it would give cover to "76 anti-abortion Fine Gael TDs".

He continued: "Unfortunately, the reality is that we have to give some comfort to government TDs on the Fine Gael side to be able to walk into Leinster House and vote for an abortion bill which would be in their minds political suicide for where they are from.

"But the expert group is the way to do that – do you know what I mean? Because they can say, 'Well, the expert group told us to do it.'"

He also gave a colourful description of his view of a rural Fine Gael TD.

"I mean, em, you have to realise, em, somebody representing somewhere like Monaghan – now my wife's from Monaghan – start talking about abortion rights in Monaghan and, you know, you don't get too far. Or Donegal or Mayo or . . . you know."

He added: "The idea of being a good [rural FG] TD is you go to Mass and you're a good Catholic. You're against abortion and you know . . . everything's fine.

"You know, as I say, my wife's from Monaghan and I go up there and sometimes I just scratch my head at some of the . . . just the . . . some of the, just the latent homophobia. The, em, you know . . . It's bizarre. You think Irish society has moved on."

Pressed on tape as to how serious Labour is about the issue of abortion, Mr O Riordain said that some within Labour were already talking about "breaking" ranks if Fine Gael refuses to act.

"We are already talking about breaking if it doesn't happen, so they might break if it does," he said.

He added: "I think the ABC case or X case wouldn't do too much . . . but once you have established a principle then we will get there over time.

"But I'll say this much, it's never going to happen unless Labour are in Government. It just wouldn't happen."

Ms Ferris told the activist she found it galling not to have supported the Clare Daly bill, but said she was strongly urged by Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore's appeal not to "break ranks" as it would give ammunition to those in Fine Gael who are opposed to legislating for the X Case.

"And this is what Eamon said to me, 'If you break ranks now, it'll leave it open in time for the Fine Gael party – when it does come back and we have the wording right and it is constitutionally okay – they'll say, 'Well look, some of the Labour Party broke ranks.' But look, you can be absolutely assured of our commitment.

"We are 100 per cent."

She again insisted that it was Labour Party policy to not just legislate for X, but "to go further".Additional reporting by freelance journalist Rory Fitzgerald who has written extensively on the abortion issue for a number of national and international publications and supplied the Sunday Independent with the tapes of the interviews conducted with the two Labour TDs.

Irish Independent

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