Tuesday 17 October 2017

Kenny woes on abortion will not be eased by poll

FG opponents to Taoiseach's stance will be heartened by drift to No camp

JOHN DRENNAN Political Editor

Taoiseach Enda Kenny's woes on the issue of abortion are unlikely to be eased by today's Millward Brown opinion poll. And while the bishops' warning that legislating for abortion would cause a serious rift in relations between the Catholic Church and the State has been roundly condemned, it does appear to have sparked a slight drift towards the No camp when it comes to proposed changes in our abortion laws.

In the wake of the decision by Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin to allow a free vote on the forthcoming abortion legislation, Mr Kenny has confirmed that FG will not be following this precedent.

In an indication of the ongoing strength of feeling within FG on this issue, Senator Fidelma Healy Eames, however, said "it is unthinkable Enda Kenny will not allow us a free vote on this issue. Why should I go against my values, the evidence and the truth on this issue''.

The Fine Gael senator also warned that "we should be very careful about normalising suicide or threats of suicide in a country experiencing an epidemic of such tragedies''.

She added that "legislators should instead be fostering a culture of life in the manner that Donal Walsh taught us''.

Internal opponents of the legislation within Fine Gael will be emboldened by a slight swing of three per cent in favour of the No camp within the electorate when it comes to the Coalition's proposals to legislate for abortion where the threat of suicide exists.

Intriguingly, the increase in the No vote from 23 per cent in early May to 26 per cent in late May comes in the wake of the Buttimer abortion hearings and a sharp attack by the church, incorporating implied threats of excommunication for those who legislate on this issue.

Opponents of the legislation may also take heart from quite a significant nine per cent increase in the No camp from 17 per cent in February to 26 per cent in today's poll.

But those who support legislating for suicide still outnumber opponents of the bill by a margin of two to one.

Significantly, the ongoing strength of the so-called 'conservative' position on abortion is indicated by the consistent opposition of 45 per cent of the electorate to a more 'liberal' abortion regime where the mother decides to have "an abortion for other reasons" than suicide, long-term health or rape.

However, despite his cold rebuff of the swinging bishop's crozier, the Taoiseach is likely to come under pressure from both Labour and the radical wing of his own party over his minimalist overall approach to this issue.

In a recent emotional exchange with the Waterford independent John Halligan, Mr Kenny sharply ruled out the possibility of any future referenda on the difficulties posed by issues such as rape or non-sustainable foetal abnormality.

Mr Kenny has laid his political authority on the line by confining the Government's response to Ireland's controversial abortion regime to the issue of suicide. But the scale of public opposition to the conservatism of Mr Kenny's political position means the abortion issue is unlikely to just go away; particularly among the more liberal ranks of his Labour partners.

Today's Millward Brown poll reveals that more than two-thirds of Irish voters believe abortion should be available for rape victims or in a Savita-style scenario where there is a medical risk to life other than suicide.

And 64 per cent of voters believe abortion should be available where there is a long-term threat to the health of the mother.

Mr Kenny's unwillingness to further liberalise Ireland's current regime is, however, likely to be strengthened by a similar shift away from a more liberal position on these issues to that seen in the more high-profile 'suicide' case.

Intriguingly, in the wake of the Buttimer hearings, there has been a consistent swing of six per cent in the first two questions and eight per cent when it comes to the provision of abortion where there is a long-term risk to health away from the liberal position.

Ongoing concern within FG about the abortion issue was signalled last week by junior minister Lucinda Creighton that work remained to be done on the legislation.

Sunday Independent

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