Friday 22 September 2017

Enda and Gilmore fall out over same-sex marriage

Taoiseach Enda Kenny
Taoiseach Enda Kenny
Daniel McConnell

Daniel McConnell

Taoiseach Enda Kenny has sharply disagreed with Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore's claim that same-sex marriage is the "civil rights issue of our generation", exposing a serious divide between the government parties over holding another hornets' nest social issue referendum.

"I wouldn't have the same opinion as the Tanaiste," Mr Kenny said.

Mr Kenny's comments expose a split between himself and Mr Gilmore, who lobbied hard to get government approval to hold a referendum on the issue in mid-2015.

The Tanaiste previously said that if Labour as a party was serious about building a new progressive society, same-sex marriage was an issue which had to be resolved -- a stance that has provoked grave disquiet within Fine Gael.

The open disagreement between Mr Kenny and Mr Gilmore is the most public dispute between them since taking office.

And it also reflects the deep reluctance within FG to tackle such a controversial social issue within the lifetime of this administration.

"We have had enough of this sh***," said one FG minister. "We are not going again. We did the abortion, we are not f****** doing this one. We got away with the abortion one, but this referendum is guaranteed to be defeated," the minister added.

There is still rancour within FG in the wake of the deeply divisive Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill and the recent Seanad Referendum defeat.

Weary party members believe both defeats were self-inflicted and could have been avoided.

Mr Kenny was speaking at a briefing for political correspondents and acknowledged the difficulty this referendum posed for many conservatives in his party.

"It is a matter for debate and discussion. Obviously the Fine Gael party has a broad range on any piece of legislation. People are entitled to have their own views, of course," Mr Kenny said.

In disagreeing with Mr Gilmore, Mr Kenny said for him the burning issue of the day was the creation of jobs, but said he would canvass in support of the proposal, despite acknowledged reluctance within his own parliamentary party.

"I wouldn't have the same opinion as the Tanaiste. Don't get me wrong, I support it and I will canvass for it," he said.

Mr Kenny said for him the "the single-biggest issue is jobs and employment".

"This is what politics is about. That is where the country thrives, that is where our economy will thrive. For me, my politics, the big thing is to get this country back to work. Everything flows from that," he said.

Despite the stated commitment to hold the referendum in 2015, Mr Kenny said there was still no government decision as to when the question would be put to the people.

"It is not decided yet when that referendum will be or what series of referendums we will do.

"I want to take careful note of the report on the last two referendums, particularly the makeup of the ballot paper," he said.

Mr Kenny said the government decision to hold the referendum came on foot of a constitutional convention report.

The Taoiseach also indicated that the same-sex referendum would be held on the same day as several other recommended referendums proposed by the convention.

"It is a matter for Government to decide whether we do a constitution day with three or four or five referenda on the one day as recommendations from the constitutional convention and allow that to happen," he said.

Last month, a Red C Poll carried out for Paddy Power showed more than three-quarters of Irish voters backed the introduction of same-sex marriages.

The survey suggests 76 per cent of the electorate would vote in favour of allowing gay couples to legally wed in Ireland.

Less than a fifth, 18 per cent, of likely voters were opposed to its introduction with 6 per cent saying they didn't yet know whether to back it or not, according to the RedC poll for Paddy Power.

A referendum is to be held on the issue in 2015.

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