TANAISTE Eamon Gilmore is facing a backbench rebellion over a contentious Dail motion on abortion this week, with some Labour TDs warning they may vote against the Government. Sinn Fein has tabled a motion calling on the Dail to legislate for abortion, and some Labour TDs are seriously considering supporting it.
The Government will reject the motion, and vote against it in the Dail on the basis that it is considering its position after receiving the report of the expert group on abortion last week.
Labour chairman Colm Keaveney is warning that the government response must not be "wishy-washy".
Mr Keaveney said there should be a clear "statement of intent" about how the Coalition will deal with abortion.
He also said "there is a lot of work to be done in the next 72 hours" to get the counter-motion right.
And Waterford Labour TD Ciara Conway says she may vote for the Sinn Fein motion if the Government's own motion is not strong enough.
Senior Labour figures last night said they feared other TDs may not support the Government in the vote unless the counter motion goes far enough to ease their concerns.
Ms Conway said she doesn't know how she will vote on Wednesday night, telling the Irish Independent: "I'll have to see the counter-motion before I make a decision.
"As soon as the private member's motion landed in my email on Friday, I was on the phone to the Tanaiste's office," Ms Conway added.
Tensions have also heightened within the Coalition after suggestions from Health Minister James Reilly that a decision on abortion may not be made until the new year.
He said a decision would be made in a "matter of weeks to months" and added that it was "going to require a lot of consultation", including with both coalition parties and the "whole Oireachtas".
It led Clare Labour TD Michael McNamara to ask: "Will the Government still be in place in weeks and months if that's his attitude?"
Labour wants a recommendation from Dr Reilly about what action to take at next week's cabinet meeting, but the minister has raised the prospect of dragging out the process.
Labour also wants primary legislation, while Fine Gael prefers regulation and wants to avoid a divisive Dail vote.
However, Dr Reilly added: "I don't think we can rush this in weeks but neither do I think we can leave it for months on end."
A more immediate test is the Sinn Fein motion, which will be voted on this Wednesday night.
It calls on the Dail to legislate for the X Case, and for the immediate publication of the Government's expert group report on abortion.
A similar motion from Clare Daly and Joan Collins of the United Left Alliance was defeated earlier this year.
Ms Conway also agreed that the counter-motion must be a "statement of intent" on what the Government intends to do on abortion.
If she was to vote against her party line, she would lose the Labour Party whip and join Roisin Shortall, Willie Penrose, Tommy Broughan and Patrick Nulty – all Labour TDs who have lost the whip – on the Independent benches.
Mr Keaveney added: "When the Cabinet decides on the counter-motion, it must be something that can bring the whole Government with it. That's the challenge."
However, other TDs, such as Dublin North-Central's Aodhan O Riordain, accused Sinn Fein of political opportunism.
Some 53 MEPs from 15 different countries have also written to Mr Kenny asking him to legislate for abortion.
Meanwhile, the official process to be set up to allow for abortions in limited circumstances may be so cumbersome that it would result in very few cases coming through it.
The expert group on abortion is understood to have recommended the setting up of a panel of medical experts to assess applications for abortions in cases where there is a threat to the life of the mother.
The proposal was revealed in the Irish Independent last month. If the panel accepts the application, the abortion would take place in a designated hospital.
If the panel rejects the applications, an appeals process would be in place. A medical source said this would allow the Government to say it had put a system in place to allow abortions. But it would be so cumbersome that few cases would be referred to it.
The grounds on which abortions would be allowed would be drawn up by the Health Minister.
"The general principle is to keep any legislation as generic as possible and leave the details to be sorted out in regulations subsequently," a source said.
The controversial Dail motion:
That Dail Eireann:
- Extends its deepest sympathy to the family of Savita Halappanavar and recognises that news of her death in such tragic and traumatic circumstances has caused distress to people throughout the country and beyond.
- Resolves to await the outcome of the ongoing inquiries into all aspects of this tragedy.
- Acknowledges that the Oireachtas must legislate to give effect to the 1992 judgment of the Supreme Court (the X Case).
- Further acknowledges that the absence of the required legislation denies women protection and the right to obtain a termination in life-threatening circumstances.
It also creates an ambiguous legal situation for clinicians in those same circumstances.
- Regrets that successive governments and Ministers for Health have failed to legislate in this regard.
Calls on the Government to:
- Immediately publish the report of the expert group.
- Immediately introduce legislation to give effect to the 1992 judgment of the Supreme Court in the X Case, to protect pregnant women where their lives are in real danger and to give legal certainty to medical professionals.