Wednesday 20 September 2017

Labour in crisis as Ferris to vote for abortion bill

Anne Ferris
Anne Ferris
Joan Burton

Daniel McConnell and Adam Cullen

Labour TD Anne Ferris is to lose her party whip and has heaped fresh pressure on Tanaiste Joan Burton by supporting an opposition abortion bill.

The Wicklow politician announced late last night that she is to vote against the Government and support a bill calling for abortion to be allowed in cases of fatal foetal abnormalities in the Dail later today.

A number of "frustrated" Labour TDs look set to be absent from the Dáil for the vote , as many TDs are unhappy with the party's stance in opposing the bill.

The Government is opposing Independent TD Clare Daly's bill after the Attorney General, Máire Whelan, ruled that it is unconstitutional. But yesterday there were calls from the Labour backbenches for the party to get a second legal opinion.

Meath East TD Dominic Hannigan said party members were seeking a second legal opinion that suggested that the Eighth Amendment may be quashed. He plans to raise this at today's special briefing.

Tánaiste Joan Burton and Communications Minister Alex White are to advise party members as to the parameters of Ms Whelan's legal opinion at the meeting.

Ms Ferris, who appeared on RTE Television's Claire Byrne Live, where she made her views known, said she is supporting Ms Daly's bill because she has campaigned for many years on the issue.

"I am speaking for the women of Ireland. I want the bill to go to committee stage," she said.

"It is a matter of principle for me," she added saying she was willing to accept the consequences of her decision.

As a result of her decision to defy Ms Burton, Ms Ferris is set to become an Independent TD. She said Ms Burton had not contacted her ahead of her appearance on television.

Her defection also caught the party's hierarchy off guard.

Just a few hours earlier, the party's chairman Jack Wall said he was confident no Labour TD would 'go overboard'.

Ms Burton's spokesman had also said it was unlikely any TD would support the bill proposed by Ms Daly.

Responding to Ms Ferris's declaration, Ms Burton's spokesman said she had nothing to add until after the vote.

The weekly meeting of the parliamentary Labour Party has been brought forward from its usual Wednesday slot to this afternoon and TDs and senators will be briefed on legal advice from Attorney General Máire Whelan.

Ms Burton and Communications Minister Alex White are to brief the party on why Ms Whelan considers Ms Daly's bill to be unconstitutional.

Labour's Kevin Humpreys said he was "very surprised" and "very disappointed" at Ms Ferris's declaration last night.

However, he welcomed the possibility of publishing the legal advice given to the Government from the Attorney General in the future

"There hasn't been advice published previously - maybe we should look at that in the future. I want to see the pros and cons of it on a long term basis," he told RTE Radio 1 this morning.

Some Labour deputies, such as Clare's Michael McNamara, Dublin Bay North's Sean Kenny and Waterford's Ciara Conway, also expressed unease about opposing the bill.

There have also been requests for a free vote on the issue but this has been repeatedly ruled out by Tánaiste Joan Burton and her office.

Fianna Fáil TDs will be granted a free vote when the vote is taken.

Sinn Féin will abstain from voting as it will be considered at the party's Ard Fheis.

Irish Independent

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