Serious tension on abortion risks Government stability
Published 04/07/2016 | 02:30
The last thing the country needs right now is brinkmanship within the Government.
Each day brings a new twist in the fallout from Brexit which could tip Ireland back into recession. Even Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin has called on all parties to "don the green jersey" and make common cause on the rocky road ahead.
The Taoiseach is trying to set up an 'All-Ireland Forum' so Dublin and Belfast can deal together with the issues that straddle the Border which can suddenly become an EU-UK frontier, with the dreary prospect of customs and identity controls taking us back more than 20 years.
But within Cabinet, the Independent Alliance is insisting on a free vote on the private member's bill to deal with fatal foetal abnormality. Independent TD, and junior education minister, John Halligan says he will vote against the Government and in favour of Deputy Mick Wallace's bill.
It would allow for terminations in the cases of fatal foetal abnormalities. But it has been ruled unconstitutional by Attorney General Máire Whelan.
The Independent Alliance will not settle for anything other than a free vote. But the Taoiseach is determined that the Government must vote together on the issue.
Mr Halligan showed that he is determined to face down his Fine Gael colleagues - even at the cost of losing his junior ministry. More significantly, he also said his Independent Alliance colleagues, Shane Ross and Finian McGrath, were of the same view.
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The crux here is that Shane Ross, as Transport Minister, is a full government member and Finian McGrath, as a 'super junior' minister in charge of disability issues, also attends Cabinet. They sit around the same table as the Attorney General who has a special role as the government's adviser.
"The Independent Alliance believe we should have a free vote on this to vote how we wish. It is unfortunate there will be conflict between us and the Government over this," Mr Halligan told RTÉ's 'Marian Finucane Show', yesterday. "There's a new Dáil and votes are supposed to be taken on matters of conscience and I think that is what the Government should do.
"The Independent Alliance had a meeting in Athlone yesterday without councillors and TDs and we have all backed that situation that there should be a free vote," he said.
"We have the backing of our supporters to vote against the Government, absolutely. We're Independents and we're part of a Government that has initiated new procedures in the Dáil," he said.
Mr Halligan argued that Shane Ross's position as a cabinet minister did not prevent him voting against the Government. "We find it unacceptable that the Government would say you can't have a free vote on it. We are not Fine Gael, we are the Independent Alliance," he said.
He further argued that there was nothing in the Programme for Partnership agreed with Fine Gael that prevents a free vote.
Mr Halligan said he would vote against the Government despite Taoiseach Enda Kenny stating he will not allow a free vote.
It is a dangerous stand-off at a rather inopportune time. Neither side should paint themselves into such a corner and it is time for some creative thinking to defuse this dispute.