Saturday 25 October 2014

Fine Gael tearing itself apart over abortion law

Fionnan Sheahan, Fiach Kelly and Lise Hand

Published 27/11/2012 | 05:00

FINE Gael is tearing itself apart over the threat of suicide being grounds for abortion – as a shadow is cast over the expert advice given to the Government on the issue.

A respected member of the expert group on abortion resigned last summer, but her departure was never disclosed by Health Minister James Reilly.

A leading family doctors' representative, Dr Ailis Ni Riain, was one of two GPs on the expert group, but she left the group in unexplained circumstances in May. Dr Ni Riain was to the forefront of research into crisis pregnancies and post-abortion counselling.

Her resignation only came to light last night, as tensions mount in Fine Gael over abortion, with the risk of suicide as a grounds for a termination becoming the new battleground.

Party ministers and TDs told the Irish Independent they have a concern about the threat of suicide being used as a pretext for obtaining an abortion where there is not actually any psychological risk to the mother.

The stance puts Fine Gael A respected member of the expert group on abortion resigned last summer, but her departure was never disclosed by Health Minister James Reilly.

A leading family doctors' representative, Dr Ailis Ni Riain, was one of two GPs on the expert group, but she left the group in unexplained circumstances in May. Dr Ni Riain was to the forefront of research into crisis pregnancies and post-abortion counselling.

Her resignation only came to light last night, as tensions mount in Fine Gael over abortion, with the risk of suicide as a grounds for a termination becoming the new battleground.

Party ministers and TDs told the Irish Independent they have a concern about the threat of suicide being used as a pretext for obtaining an abortion where there is not actually any psychological risk to the mother.

The stance puts Fine Gael on a collision course with the Labour Party but also throws up a contradiction with the law as set out under the X Case.

Some TDs even believe there should be a referendum to resolve the issue, although they accept this is highly unlikely.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny gave his strongest indication yet that Fine Gael will not put up with a liberal abortion regime – because the vast majority of the public don't want abortion available on demand.

Mr Kenny also firmly ruled out any free vote in the Dail for Fine Gael backbenchers, which is causing a difficulty for many of his TDs.

Tourism Minister Leo Varadkar last night supported the Taoiseach's that decision – although he did concede that abortion is potentially the most divisive issue within Fine Gael.

To further complicate the matter, Dr Reilly has to explain why a member of the group resigned. That Dr Ni Riain's resignation only came to light last night, on the eve of the publication of the report, raises questions over why Dr Reilly didn't publicly disclose her departure.

The expert group was dogged by controversy over the delays in its completion amid speculation of disputes among its members.

Dr Ni Riain is a long-serving and prominent member of the Irish College of General Practitioners, where she previously served as Women's Health Director and Director of Advocacy and Professional Competence.

She was previously a member of several state boards, including the National Cancer Screening Programme.

Dr Ni Riain was unavailable for comment and the minister's spokesman said he was "unaware" of the reasons behind the resignation.

Meanwhile, the Government will discuss the report today. A fortnight ago, before the Savita Halappanavar case, the debate was over whether there would be new laws or not, but the frontline has now moved on to what criteria will be included.

"I don't think there is any problem in Fine Gael with passing legislation to protect the life of the mother. It's suicide that's the problem," a minister said.



Reservations



Fine Gael sources say there are up to 20 TDs in the party who would have reservations about where the line is drawn on granting permission for an abortion.

"How do you decide someone is going to commit suicide? We all accept the need for legislation and regulation, but where do you draw the line on some-

one coming out and saying they are suicidal? That is my biggest fear, that this will result in widespread abortion in years to come," another minister said.

The Coalition will today discuss and publish a report by an expert group on abortion, which indicates new laws will need to be passed.

Growing numbers of Fine Gael ministers and TDs accept new laws will be needed to clarify where a termination is needed to protect the life of the mother.

Under the X Case ruling by the Supreme Court, the threat of suicide is a reason to grant an abortion – and this is backed up the Government's expert group report. Labour's official policy is also to legislate for the X Case.

Mr Kenny says the vast majority of people now accept the Government has to deal with the abortion question – but don't want it available on demand.

In the clearest expression of his views on the contentious issue to date, Mr Kenny said "legal certainty" was needed for the medical profession.

The Taoiseach said the Government would "deal with" the report, adding: "We need to provide for legal certainty and for circumstances from a medic's perspective to deal with this.

"We will deal with it, don't ask me for a specific date, I don't envisage this drifting along interminably. I'd like to deal with it as soon as it's practicable to do so."

Health Minister Dr James Reilly said: "This is not an issue that I will leave behind me as Minister for Health."

Irish Independent

Read More

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News