Fine Gael blocked abortion debate at ard fheis
Fine Gael blocked members from engaging in any debate on abortion at the party's final ard fheis before the General Election, the Sunday Independent can reveal.
Several party branches submitted motions on the contentious issue to headquarters in the hope that the topic could be discussed at the conference in the Citywest Hotel in Dublin last weekend.
However, despite seven separate branches calling for a debate on the party's abortion stances, Fine Gael's executive council vetoed all motions, fearing discussion on the issue would split the party.
Fine Gael is desperately seeking to quash all debate around abortion during the election, even though candidates are facing tough questions on the issue while canvassing.
One Fine Gael minister said the decision to block the motion illustrates the level of wariness at senior party level about the issue being discussed.
"The last thing we needed was a potential row about abortion just weeks before the election," the source said.
It is understood four of the motions, which were pro-life related, were drafted by one individual and submitted by four different Young Fine Gael branches.
There was one other pro-life motion and two other proposals considered pro-choice and favouring removing the Eight Amendment of the Constitution, which protects the rights of the unborn.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny has promised to allow TDs and senators a free vote on future abortion legislation and pledged to put proposals for removing the Eighth Amendment before a citizens' convention if re-elected.
Mr Kenny's allies and advisers have praised the party leader's strategy on abortion, insisting it shows he is listening to the varying opinions on the issue within his party.
However, news that Fine Gael headquarters stopped the debate weeks out from the election is sure to cause concern for members who have strong views on abortion and are anxious for the party to take a stance on the issue.
"The process is in accordance with the Fine Gael constitution in that the executive council, which is elected by the Fine Gael membership and public representatives, decides the motions that will be put before the ard fheis," a spokesman said.
Fine Gael Meath East TD Regina Doherty, who favours an abortion referendum, said it was too close to the election to discuss the issue at the party's conference.
"It is a divisive issue and we are weeks away from the election campaign and it would be a mad strategy to divide the party at this stage when everyone is united by the citizens' convention idea," she said
A recent survey by the Irish Independent showed a massive split in Fine Gael on abortion and based on the results it is unclear if legislation on removing the Eighth Amendment would be passed by the Dail with Fine Gael in government.
When asked, just 15 Fine Gael TDs said they are in favour of legislation to allow abortion in the cases of fatal foetal abnormalities.
In an interview with the Sunday Independent, Children's Minister James Reilly said it was "repugnant" that women who have abortions in England are forced to "sneak back in like criminals to bring their babies' remains back" to Ireland.
Health Minister Leo Varadkar has said abortion should be permitted in all instances were there is a significant threat to a woman's life.