Friday 2 December 2016

‘Attorney general’s advice is simply an opinion’ – Shane Ross denies tension on abortion a threat to Government stability

Meadhbh McGrath

Published 04/07/2016 | 10:40

Transport Minister Shane Ross (Picture: Tom Burke)
Transport Minister Shane Ross (Picture: Tom Burke)
John Halligan (left) says he will vote against the Government and that Minister Shane Ross shares his views on the bill. Photo: Gareth Chaney
Enda Kenny. Photo: Gerry Mooney

Transport Minister Shane Ross has denied claims that the tension over the upcoming abortion bill poses a threat to Government stability.

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The Independent Alliance TD told RTE Radio One’s Morning Ireland that he will be voting in favour of Deputy Mick Wallace’s bill to deal with fatal foetal abnormality.

“It is our intention to vote for the bill because we believe it is one of the cardinal views of the Independent Alliance that on issues of conscience and issues this sort there should be a free vote,” he said.

He added that Finian McGrath and John Halligan will also be voting for the bill “because it’s part of the new politics and what we believe in”.

TDs Kevin ‘Boxer’ Moran and Sean Canney, however, will be voting against the bill “because that’s their sincere belief”, he said.

Attorney general Máire Whelan has advised that the proposed bill is unconstitutional, and while Mr Ross noted that while he “takes it very seriously”, he said: “It’s not going to force us to vote against our consciences.”

“I think the attorney general’s advice is simply an opinion,” he said.

“The three of us who are voting for the bill think that should be tested in the Supreme Court and that the Cabinet should not be dictated to by any advice at all.”

John Halligan (left) says he will vote against the Government
and that Minister Shane Ross shares his views on the bill. Photo: Gareth Chaney
John Halligan (left) says he will vote against the Government and that Minister Shane Ross shares his views on the bill. Photo: Gareth Chaney

He continued: “We’re saying we believe we don’t leave our consciences at the door of the Cabinet, we believe we should vote according to our consciences and have a free vote. Others will take the advice of the attorney general and that’s absolutely fair.”

When asked if he would be flouting the Cabinet collective responsibility, as the Taoiseach had said, Mr Ross replied: “I don’t this as an issue of defying anybody. I see this as an issue of John Halligan, Finian McGrath and I taking a position on an issue we believe in.”

The Taoiseach is determined that the Government must vote together on the issue and not flout collective Cabinet responsibility, but the Independent Alliance is insisting on a free vote.

“I believe there are issues where Cabinet responsibility and collective responsibility are very important … but not for this,” Mr Ross said.

“You don’t freeze your conscience when you walk into the Cabinet, you say, ‘look, these issues are sacrosanct.’

“There is absolutely nothing in the programme for Government to bind us on termination of pregnancy. You don’t clamp people’s consciences on the new politics.”

He added that he and his Independent Alliance colleagues “simply want the liberty and the freedom to vote according to our consciences”.

Mr Ross refuted the suggestion that his choice to vote in favour of the bill would pose a risk to Government stability.

Enda Kenny. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Enda Kenny. Photo: Gerry Mooney

“I don’t think this should threaten the Government in any way at all. This is a new Government, it’s a partnership Government, not a Fine Gael Government, and the Independent Alliance is here to see that people are allowed to vote on issues which don’t affect the stability of the Government.

“I don’t see any issues in us taking a view that we’ve always taken. It would be totally unrealistic to expect us to do a complete and utter turn on that,” he said.

While he noted that he had “no intention of defying anybody”, he admitted that Enda Kenny “may disagree, we’ll see what he has to say about it”.

Mr Ross will join the Taoiseach and Agriculture Minister Michael Creed at Dublin Castle today to meet the North South Ministerial Council and consider the implications of the Brexit referendum result.

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