Sunday 23 October 2016

Minister Canney joins calls for free vote on abortion

Niall O'Connor, Cormac McQuinn and Kevin Doyle

Published 23/06/2016 | 02:30

Seán Canney at Leinster House. Photo: Tom Burke
Seán Canney at Leinster House. Photo: Tom Burke

OPW Minister Seán Canney has joined his Independent Alliance colleagues in seeking a free vote on a Bill allowing for abortion in cases of fatal foetal abnormality.

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Though he is pro-life, Mr Canney told the Irish Independent he is supportive of fellow Alliance TD John Halligan voting with the bill.

"We are Independents and this is not in the programme for government. It is a matter of conscience," he said.

The Bill is being put forward by Wexford TD Mick Wallace. It proposes that women should be allowed a termination in cases of fatal foetal abnormality where doctors deem the pregnancy to be non-viable.

Super-junior Disabilities Minister Finian McGrath is also seeking a free vote on the matter. "I believe there should be a free vote on moral and ethical issues. Freedom of conscience is a major right," he said.

Government sources have privately suggested that Mr Halligan has embarked on a "solo run" and that other members of the alliance want to abstain or vote with the Government on the Bill given that it will be argued to be unconstitutional.

But the same sources admitted last night that consideration will need to be given to keep the Government intact.

Fine Gael's plan is for a citizen's convention to examine the Eight Amendment, the law that gives equal status to the lives of a mother and her unborn child.

Health Minister Simon Harris last night said he has sought the advice of the Attorney General on Deputy Wallace's Bill.

He said his own view is that he finds "the current situation in relation to fatal foetal abnormalities to be unacceptable".

"However, as Minister for Health I'm duty-bound to make sure that any changes introduced have a meaningful impact. Therefore I've asked the Attorney General for advice on the constitutionality of the Bill.

"I obviously can't support a Bill if it's deemed not to be constitutional or not to make that meaningful impact. I'm awaiting that advice," Mr Harris said.

Later last night he told a meeting of Fine Gael TDs that he believes it is "highly likely" that the Attorney General will find Mr Wallace's Bill unconstitutional.

The issue was raised by Dublin Bay South TD Kate O'Connell who has previously spoken about her belief that the country's abortion laws need to be changed.

A source said Mr Harris expressed concerns about the definition of many of the phrases being used in the debate around foetuses with no life expectancy. And he urged TDs and senators to back the citizens' assembly which is being planned by the Government.

"Kate seemed happy with his response and said we shouldn't let others throw obstacles in our way," said a source.

Fianna Fáil will be allowing a free vote on Deputy Wallace's Bill. Barry Cowen indicated he would be voting against it saying he's concerned it wouldn't be constitutional. Two of the party's other TDs, Niamh Smyth and Fiona O'Loughlin, said they have yet to make up their minds.

Irish Independent

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