Taoiseach Enda Kenny pledges free vote to TDs on future abortion changes
Fine Gael politicians are to be given a free vote on any future changes to the country's restrictive abortion laws following a dramatic political decision by Taoiseach Enda Kenny.
Mr Kenny has tonight assured his parliamentary party that in the event of a referendum to repeal the Eighth Amendment, TDs and senators can vote by their conscience.
This means that any Fine Gael politician can vote against future legislation to liberalise the country's abortion laws - without being ejected from the party.
The dramatic move by Mr Kenny has stunned the Fine Gael party and is seen as a clear attempt to prevent the abortion debate from dominating the upcoming General Election.
The abortion debate was reignited after the party's deputy leader James Reilly told the Sunday Independent that a referendum to repeal the Eighth Amendment should take place in the earely part of the Government's next term.
Independent.ie can reveal that Dr Reilly was given a severe dressing down prior to the Cabinet Meeting yesterday by Mr Kenny and Finance Minister Michael Noonan.
However, Dr Reilly was backed up by a number of colleagues including Frances Fitzgerald.
The events of recent days have stunned the party and put huge pressure on Mr Kenny to address the abortion issue tonight.
Addressing the parliamentary party this evening, Mr Kenny said the Fine Gael manifesto will not commit to a repeal on the Eighth Amendment.
However, it will pledge to refer the matter of the Eighth Amendment - which gives equal status to the rights of the mother and the unborn - to a so-called 'Citizens Comvention'.