Alliance told to fight FG for free vote on abortion
Ministers say Kenny may yield to demands from Ross and McGrath
Independent Alliance ministers have been given the full support of their membership to fight Fine Gael for a free vote on an abortion bill being put before the Dail this week.
At the first gathering of Alliance members since the election, Transport Minister Shane Ross and Disability Minister Finian McGrath were told they have the backing of supporters to vote against the Government.
The two ministers have faced off against Taoiseach Enda Kenny ahead of the Dail vote on a bill which seeks to legislate for abortion in cases of fatal foetal abnormalities.
The legislation proposed by Independent TDs Mick Wallace, which is identical to a previous bill brought by Clare Daly, has been deemed unconstitutional by Attorney- General Marie Whelan.
However, both Mr McGrath and Mr Ross, along with their Independent Alliance colleague, Junior Minister John Halligan, are determined to vote in favour of the bill as a show of solidarity to the thousands of women with fatal foetal abnormalities who were forced to travel for abortions.
Speaking after the post-election meeting of Independent Alliance members in Athlone yesterday, Kevin 'Boxer' Moran said the membership is "split down the middle" on abortion.
However, Mr Moran, who describes himself as pro-life, insisted the Cabinet ministers have the backing of supporters to vote how they choose.
"We always said going into government we would vote with our conscience and we would all do our own thing and that's what we want to do," he said.
Junior Minister Sean Canney said he is confident that an agreement can be reached at this Tuesday's Cabinet meeting.
A senior Fine Gael source said Taoiseach Enda Kenny can still permit a free vote on the bill as the matter was adjourned at last week's Cabinet meeting. Mr Kenny is anxious to ensure there is collective Cabinet responsibility on all decisions taken by the Government. But sources suggest the Taoiseach may be forced to allow a free vote on this occasion.
A Fine Gael minister said the decision is "ultimately" one for the alliance as they are not subject to the Fine Gael whip.
Junior Training and Skills Minister John Halligan, who last week said he will vote for the bill even if it is unconstitutional, said Fine Gael should not be able to impose its whip on Independent Alliance members.
"This is not an issue that is budgetary and it's not a vote of confidence in the Government, we should be able to vote with our conscience on this," Mr Halligan told the Sunday Independent.