Government rift widens as rebels dig in on abortion
Church warnings intensify concern in Fine Gael
Divisions and tensions within Government over the abortion legislation have escalated after the intervention of the Catholic bishops, with both sides now targeting the upcoming committee hearings to make amendments to the controversial bill agreed last week, the Sunday Independent can reveal.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny has been warned by rebels on the Fine Gael pro-life wing of the party that "the war is not yet over" when it comes to the Government's proposal to legislate for the X Case. And Labour TDs and senators are adamant this weekend that no further restrictions would be tolerated saying that the expert group recommendations represent for them a "bottom line".
Senator Ivana Bacik said this weekend that the recommendations of the expert group, contained in the new bill, represent a "bottom line" for the Labour party and members are adamant that no undoing of that will be allowed to happen.
"Yes, that is our bottom line. It would be really very hard to accept any further restrictions that might be put into the final draft that would be very hard to accept."
She added: "The health committee hearings will be very useful in teasing out some of the practical details, but it wouldn't be acceptable to see extra restrictions put in. I think the heads provide us with the evidence-based procedures set out in the expert group, but putting in any extra restrictions wouldn't work."
In the wake of the parliamentary party meeting, Fine Gael ministers and the Taoiseach believed the revolt had been quelled, with the exception of two or three TDs.
However, rebel TDs believed that between 10 to 15 TDs are still prepared to lose the party whip unless their concerns are met on a variety of issues.
"While they may not be willing to vote in the Dail against the Government, they certainly are prepared to vote for a motion at the parliamentary party meeting. This is not over," said one TD.
A number of FG TDs remain anxious to ''issue a sunset clause or a variation of that''.
Outside of Peter Mathews, Terence Flanagan, John O'Mahony and James Bannon, it is believed that Galway West TD Brian Walsh still has significant difficulties. Others who are still not convinced include John Paul Phelan, Damien English, the two Wicklow TDs Billy Timmins and Andrew Doyle, and European Affairs Minister Lucinda Creighton.
In an interview with this newspaper, Ms Creighton signalled ongoing difficulties over the vexed issue of suicide.
She said 90 per cent of the legislation was satisfactory but she retained concerns over the issue of suicide given that "the clear view of the vast majority of psychiatrists in the country is that abortion is not an appropriate treatment where a woman is suicidal".
In an indication of ongoing tensions within Fine Gael, Senator Fidelma Healy Eames has slammed the refusal by the Oireachtas Health Committee examining the Government's proposals to accede to her ''formal request'' that ''women who have experienced abortions are invited to give testimonies at the upcoming Oireachtas health hearings on Protection of Life during Pregnancy Bill''.
The senator suggested ''ideally this should include women from both sides of the argument, women who regret and women who do not regret their decisions''.
The silent concerns of up to 15 Fine Gael TDs is likely to be intensified by the strong warning from the head of the Catholic Church that TD's have a "solemn duty" to oppose laws that attack the sacredness of life. Cardinal Brady also said that the Government's Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill had "potentially menacing implications" for all Catholic institutions and expression of religious freedoms.
Sources within Fine Gael said the intervention by the church would ''seriously harden the positions of those who are uneasy''.
And yesterday in Knock, Cardinal Brady kept up the pressure, saying in his introduction to Mass for the national day of prayer for life: "We live in a twilight sort of world where, unfortunately, the perception of the seriousness of abortion has grown progressively obscured in the minds of many of our contemporaries.
"In this Mass we pray for courage – the kind of courage that is needed to look the truth in the eye and to call it as it is, without yielding to self-deception or bowing to convenient compromise, scrupulously avoiding ambiguous language which cloaks the true horror of the situation and reduces its seriousness in public," the Cardinal said.