Tuesday 19 September 2017

Gilmore and Kenny now differ over abortion law

Taoiseach is reluctant to act; Envoy soothes Savita concerns

Fionnan Sheahan, Political Editor

TANAISTE Eamon Gilmore is going to push for full laws to regulate abortion despite Taoiseach Enda Kenny's reluctance to act.

In the wake of the Savita scandal, Labour is cranking up the pressure within the Coalition to bring in laws to allow abortions where the mother's life is at risk, the Irish Independent understands.

The fallout from the death of Savita Halappanavar is forcing Mr Kenny to make a decision early on a divisive issue he had hoped to postpone, senior Government sources say.

The tragedy has lead to diplomatic tensions, with Syed Akbaruddin, a spokesman for India's Ministry for External Affairs, describing it as a matter of concern.

"We deeply regret the tragic death of Ms Halappanavar. The death of an Indian national in such circumstances is a matter of concern. Our embassy in Dublin is following the matter closely," Mr Akbaruddin said. Ireland's ambassador to India is attempting to ease concerns over the death.

Feilim McLaughlin is briefing government and opposition figures in New Delhi, as two investigations continue into Mrs Halappanavar's death on October 28 in Galway University Hospital.

The stance within Fine Gael on the abortion issue has softened this week, while Labour figures see it as proof action is required swiftly.

Social Protection Minister Joan Burton says the tragic case represents a "nightmare for women".

Ms Burton rejected suggestions Fine Gael did not want to act. "In fairness to every party in Dail Eireann, I don't know of anybody who doesn't want a situation where the life of the mother is protected," she said.

Mr Gilmore and Mr Kenny have received copies of the report of the expert group on abortion, set up to examine the Government's options.

The Tanaiste is staunchly pro-choice, while Mr Kenny is regarded by colleagues as pro-life, but in favour of protection for the life of the mother.

"He'd be cautious enough on it because he knows how divisive it can be," a source close to the Taoiseach said.

"He would be on the side of the mother. He'd be pro-life but if it was proven there was a threat to the life of the mother, he'd be for it. He's not a fanatic."


Already within Fine Gael, there is talk about setting up another committee to examine the report of an expert group.

But Labour sources say, in the wake of the Galway case, it now wants nothing less than "legislation for the X Case" and expects action, if not before Christmas, then certainly early in the New Year.

"This is not something that can be kicked down the road," a senior Labour Party source said.

The differences between Fine Gael and Labour are regarded as the biggest faultline in the Coalition – and a potential threat to the administration.

The expert group is believed to have recommended that the Health Minister would decide the limited grounds for abortion, rather than the Dail.

The setting up of a panel of medical experts to consider applications for abortions in extremely limited circumstances, set out in regulations by the minister, is its central option.

The problem for the Government is this would still be likely to mean a vote of some sort in the Dail – even if it was just on a narrow piece of legislation with no specifics.

Fine Gael sources are saying it may be possible to provide the minister with these powers through an existing piece of legislation. But Labour figures believe it must be "grounded in primary legislation" and feel it is not possible to do it by way of secondary legislation.

Conscious of the divisive nature of the substantive issue, Mr Kenny would be aware of the political difficulties of keeping everyone in his party and within the Coalition onside on any move on abortion.

"That'd be a tricky one. It's the last thing he'd want on his plate. He'd be always a man who would want to do nothing," a minister said.

Regardless of the coalition tensions and the impending Budget, Labour is determined to act.

Mr Gilmore vowed the Coalition would not be the seventh government to ignore the abortion issue. He promised that the Government will take action to bring "legal clarity" to the circumstances where abortions are permitted.

Pointing to his own pro-choice credentials, the Tanaiste said he is on the record for over 25 years on how it should be dealt with.

"I don't think as a country we should allow a situation arise where women's lives are at risk," he said.


Meanwhile, in India, officials in diplomatic circles said political meetings were planned in an effort to indicate the exact position on abortion in Ireland "in light of strong headlines".

Mrs Halappanavar (31) was 17 weeks pregnant when she died after suffering a miscarriage and septicaemia.

Her husband Praveen has alleged that doctors refused several requests for a medical termination because the foetus's heartbeat was present.

He also alleged the couple were told: "This is a Catholic country."

Irish Independent

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