Thursday 26 April 2018

Coveney took on a battle too many by trying to force a 'super majority' on abortion vote

'Coveney took on a battle too many by trying to force a ‘super majority’ on abortion vote.' Photo: Mark Condren
'Coveney took on a battle too many by trying to force a ‘super majority’ on abortion vote.' Photo: Mark Condren
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

There are only so many battles anybody can fight in 24 hours, which is why Tánaiste Simon Coveney should choose his wisely.

The Foreign Affairs Minister is the man of the moment. For the past three days he has been all over the headlines for simultaneously taking on the Russians and his conscience.

For many reasons it would seem that he has found the latter fight a lot tougher.

In this newspaper on Monday, Mr Coveney outlined in great detail how he had managed to make peace with legislating for abortion up to 12 weeks.

The news stunned many, including some of his own Fine Gael colleagues.

But politics is supposed to be the art of the possible and he found a way to, in his own words, "get that balance right and protect women in the appropriate way".

The general view in political circles was that his change of heart had 'landed well', albeit he faced inevitable criticism from pro-life groups.

And there it should have been left to lie - but, as one ministerial colleague pointed out, he "got greedy".

Ahead of yesterday's Cabinet meeting, Mr Coveney made another unexpected intervention in the abortion debate by seeking to insert a clause requiring a two-third 'super majority' for any future changes to the abortion laws.

The idea had merit in that it would reassure those who worry that the current legislation is merely a stepping stone to a more liberal regime.

However, the Tánaiste didn't consult a lawyer or his Constitution before floating the idea. The Cabinet was told such a move would itself require a referendum.

Sources close to the minister said he was merely trying to get over the idea that people can't trust politicians.

But there was a backlash in Fine Gael last night at a "spectacular own goal".

"He didn't talk to anybody. He's sowing doubt. Why couldn't he just leave it alone?" said one minister.

Another said: "His piece in the Indo landed really well, then he had to go open his mouth again."

At a press conference yesterday evening, Health Minister Simon Harris appeared to offer the Tánaiste a fig leaf.

"The Taoiseach has made it clear that the AG has said this is unconstitutional and the Tánaiste has also acknowledged that.

"What the Government will do is we will ask the Government to look at ways to insure that if Ireland is to revisit this issue again that there would be broad involvement of stakeholders," he said.

The proposal is that the Attorney General will see if there are ways of ensuring a new Citizens' Assembly or special Oireachtas committee ahead of any future change.

One Cabinet minister told the Irish Independent the idea was "silly but sure they are trying to get him off the hook".

A spokesperson for Mr Coveney said last night that he had asked for something that is "not possible in the time we have". "His support for the legislation is not dependent on this."

Moral of the story is: Quit while you're ahead.

Irish Independent

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