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Sunday 22 October 2017

Kenny and Reilly will meet TDs in abortion bill talks

Fiach Kelly, Fionnan Sheahan and Allison Bray

TAOISEACH Enda Kenny and Health Minister James Reilly have promised to meet TDs and senators thinking of voting against the abortion bill one-one-one to try to assuage their concerns.

Mr Kenny and Dr Reilly made the promise at a meeting of the Fine Gael parliamentary party, which saw Dublin South TD Peter Mathews forced to withdraw a motion calling for a free vote on the issue.

Mr Mathews also withdrew two motions calling on the Coalition to drop its abortion legislation entirely and to withdraw the parts of the Bill allowing the threat of suicide as grounds for abortion.

He then attempted to push a third motion – calling for a free vote in the Dail and Seanad – but could not get anyone to second him.

It is understood Galway Senator Fidelma Healy-Eames also withdrew a similar motion, but Mr Mathews – who did not return calls – was said to exasperate TDs by "lecturing" them.

One TD said he was only to be given two minutes speaking time per motion, and quickly withdrew the first two.

Sources said he was then unsure about whether to push his third one. "He didn't know whether to push the motion or not," said one, adding that he spoke for almost a total of 40 minutes.

It is also understood Mr Mathews – who was being heckled – complained of being interrupted.

He sparked objections from TDs Mary Mitchell O'Connor and Heather Humphreys, with Ms Humphreys saying she wanted the issue dealt with since it concerned women's lives.

At one stage, sources said Mr Mathews said, "it's not just about women's lives", which led Fine Gael Seanad leader Maurice Cummins to "tear into" him.

Others looking for a free vote said the issue could be revisited again by the parliamentary party, since it had not been pushed to a vote and defeated.

It came after a Fine Gael TD voting against the abortion legislation said the number of his colleagues who will follow suit "are going to grow".

Fine Gael backbencher Brian Walsh is sticking to his plan to vote against the abortion legislation as he says his concerns were not addressed.

The Galway West TD estimates "somewhere between eight and 12" TDs will vote against the legislation.

Mr Walsh initially said he was voting against the legislation when the draft was published six weeks ago.

"The introduction in the legislation of the review, that doesn't give any comfort," he said.

Environment Minister Phil Hogan again ruled out a free vote on the legislation.

"The Taoiseach Enda Kenny and leader of the party has made it perfectly clear there will not be a free vote on this legislation," he said.

Mr Mathews was also said to have addressed the Taoiseach directly on a number of occasions, waved a copy of the Constitution and almost walked out.

He also was said to have angered TDs by suggesting his children knew more about the abortion legislation than they did.

"The idea that there is only one person in the party who has a conscience on this is ridiculous," said one TD.

"Peter didn't really know what to do, he's not long in politics," a source said.

"He didn't know the procedures," the source added.

They also said Mr Kenny and Dr Reilly had already been holding meetings with TDs and senators.

Irish Independent

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