Saturday 22 October 2016

Silence on abortion is not an option

Published 11/01/2016 | 02:30

Children's Minister James Reilly led calls for a referendum on the Eighth Amendment Photo: Frank Mc Grath
Children's Minister James Reilly led calls for a referendum on the Eighth Amendment Photo: Frank Mc Grath

July 11, 2013 is a day that will remained etched in the minds of Fine Gael politicians for years to come.

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Shortly after 9pm, one of the party's star performers took a decision that would cost her dearly in terms of her job and her place within the Fine Gael fold.

With a simple press of a button, Lucinda Creighton had broken the rules and defied her party over the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill.

For that, a price would have to be paid.

Like a domino effect, six TDs and senators followed Lucinda's lead and opposed the legislation, which allows for a termination of pregnancy where there is a real and substantial risk to a woman's life.

All seven lost the party whip. Some, including Lucinda, are never likely to return.

For Fine Gael, it was a devastating and emotional period that ripped the party apart.

Many TDs and senators desperately hoped that the abortion issue would remain under the radar for a long time to come.

James Reilly, the party's deputy leader, had different ideas.

In an interview with this journalist before Christmas, the Children's Minister called for a referendum to repeal the Eighth Amendment, claiming Irish women who have terminations in the UK are being forced to "sneak back in like criminals".

His intervention infuriated the Taoiseach, who felt Dr Reilly had spoken out of turn and before the party's position was finalised.

A firm dressing down was given - but Dr Reilly refused to back down.

Just days later, the Taoiseach pledged to set up a citizens' convention and give his TDs a free vote.

While some observers questioned Mr Kenny's motives at the time, the results of a survey of TDs by this newspaper suggest it was a wise and calculated move.

The level of unease within the party about any changes to the country's abortion laws is palpable.

And yet, there is still a strong contingent of at least 15 TDs - some of whom are likely future ministers - who demand change. They demand that women, in limited circumstances, be given a choice.

But what is of most concern for Irish politics is the significant number of legislators who choose to remain silent on this issue.

No voter on this island has a right to criticise a politician who follows their convictions and who is served by their conscience.

But if we have learned anything from the tumultuous years gone by, it is that remaining silent on issues of such grave importance should not be tolerated from our political leaders.

Irish Independent

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