Monday 24 April 2017

Cabinet split as Independents want free vote on abortion bill

Independent ministers Finian McGrath, pictured, and Shane Ross had insisted that TDs should be allowed to vote with their consciences Picture: Tom Burke
Independent ministers Finian McGrath, pictured, and Shane Ross had insisted that TDs should be allowed to vote with their consciences Picture: Tom Burke

Niall O'Connor and Philip Ryan

As the rift within the Government deepens over abortion, a special meeting of the Cabinet is to be held tomorrow.

Enda Kenny yesterday clashed with members of the Independent Alliance, who are demanding a free vote on a bill that allows for terminations in cases of fatal foetal abnormality.

The Taoiseach was forced to adjourn yesterday's Cabinet meeting without agreement after ministers Shane Ross and Finian McGrath had insisted that TDs should be allowed to vote with their consciences.

But Fine Gael members of Cabinet last night insisted that the bill, which was tabled by 'Independent 4 Change' TD Mick Wallace, had already been deemed "unconstitutional" by the Attorney-General Máire Whelan.

"The Taoiseach simply made the point that the advice of the Attorney-General is concrete and must be respected. You can't have ministers voting against the advice of the Attorney-General," said one minister.

But junior minister John Halligan, who is a member of the Independent Alliance, has said that he wants to see Ms Whelan's advice in writing.

"At the moment, there is no agreement. We believe this is a matter of conscience," he told the Irish Independent last night.

Some members of the alliance have advised Mr Halligan to seek permission to abstain from the vote, which is expected to take place next Thursday.

Children's Minister Katherine Zappone, who is pro-choice, confirmed that she would not be supporting Mr Wallace's bill. "The minister is in favour of legislating for fatal foetal abnormalities and wants us to move towards the best possible legislation," a spokesman for the minister told the Irish Independent.

"Unfortunately, this bill will not deliver what women need.

"The bill will have no effect as it can't be enforced due to constitutional issues and its failure to give a definition for fatal foetal abnormalities."

Ms Zappone feels the Citizen's Assembly, which is soon to be established, offers the "fastest route" for "building consensus" for the repeal of the Eighth Amendment, which gives equal status to the right to life of the mother and the unborn.

Mr Wallace's bill proposes that women should be allowed to have an abortion in cases of fatal foetal abnormality, where both a perinatologist and an obstetrician deem the pregnancy to be non-viable. It is due to be debated in the Dáil tomorrow.

Separately, it has emerged that Fianna Fáil is to table an amendment to a motion by 'Independents 4 Change' for a Commission of Investigation to be held into Nama's sale of Project Eagle.

Fianna Fáil wants to allow the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) to first complete its examination of the sale of Nama's northern loan book. The Government agrees the review by the CAG should proceed.

Irish Independent

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