Monday 25 September 2017

FG contains abortion bill revolt as two members vote No in Seanad

Fiach Kelly Political Correspondent

FINE GAEL'S abortion revolt has been contained to seven Oireachtas members after two senators joined the five TDs who voted against the bill last week.

Senators Fidelma Healy-Eames and Paul Bradford voted against the abortion legislation when it came before the Upper House.

They are now expelled from the Fine Gael parliamentary party, although the pair were widely expected to vote against the Government.

However, another Fine Gael senator who was seen as doubtful, Michael Mullins, decided to support the bill in what he described as a "huge leap of faith".

Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin was also dealt another blow with 10 of his 14 senators voting against the bill.

Mr Martin granted a free vote after initially wanting his party to support the bill, and 14 of 19 TDs also voted against the legislation.

'CONSCIENTIOUS'

Ms Healy-Eames said she decided with a 'heavy heart" she could not support the bill. It comes after five Fine Gael TDs, including former European Affairs Minister Lucinda Creighton, rebelled in the Dail and were expelled from the parliamentary party.

"I don't want to lose the Fine Gael party whip but I do want to exercise my human right to make a conscientious decision," Ms Healy-Eames told the Seanad, adding the bill allowed abortion in cases of suicide.

"I cannot support this bill as it stands," she said. She also said Savita Halappanavar's death had been "hijacked" to get abortion "over the line".

Mr Bradford, Ms Creighton's husband, said his main problem was with the suicide clause, which he said would lead to doctors practising "medicine without science".

He also said the bill would open the door to "abuse of this clause".

The Government won the first Seanad vote by 41 votes to 15. Senators David Norris and James Heffernan, who lost the Labour whip over Budget cuts, were missing.

As well as the 10 Fianna Fail and the two Fine Gael senators who voted against, Independents Feargal Quinn, Ronan Mullen and Mary Ann O'Brien also voted against the bill.

The Fianna Fail senators who voted for the legislation, which is due to complete its passage through the Seanad next week, were Averil Power, Mary White, Darragh O'Brien and Ned O'Sullivan.

Holding the level of Fine Gael defections between Dail and Seanad below 10 will be seen as a good result for Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Health Minister James Reilly, following predictions of as many as 30 defections a few months ago.

The Fine Gael abortion rebels are TDs Lucinda Creighton, Terence Flanagan, Brian Walsh, Billy Timmins and Peter Mathews as well as Ms Healy-Eames and Mr Bradford in the Seanad.

Fianna Fail Seanad leader O'Brien says he will vote against the bill in its final stages.

Mr O'Brien said he voted for the legislation in its early stages to see if amendments would be subsequently accepted, particularly around the suicide clause, which he would like to see removed.

This will not happen, meaning the Malahide, Co Dublin-based senator will become the 25th Fianna Fail Oireachtas member out of 33, or three-quarters of the parliamentary party, to vote a different way to Mr Martin.

Irish Independent

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