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Coalition hoping to get abortion bill passed without vote

THE Government plans to try to get the abortion legislation passed without a divisive vote in the Dail, thereby avoiding the issue of rebel Fine Gael TDs losing the party whip.

Under Dail rules at least 10 TDs are required to force a vote to actually be held, otherwise the law just passes by general consent.

Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin is the crucial figure in this scenario. Labour and Fine Gael will tow the coalition line, and Sinn Fein are also heavily indicating support.

So only Fianna Fail has sufficient numbers to ask for a vote to be held.

But Fianna Fail are also the most divided party on the legislation with a 50:50 split on supporting or opposing it.

Sources close to Taoiseach Enda Kenny told the Irish Independent his preference would be to have no vote on abortion.

'Happy'

"It would be good for us if there was no vote. Surely they (Fianna Fail) will be happy not to have a vote. It would be a good result for Fianna Fail because they'd keep their anti and pro side in the camp," a senior coalition source said.

"Kenny would be very happy. And I'd say Martin would be too," added the source.

A fortnight after the legislation was published, Mr Martin has yet to express an opinion publicly on the legislation.

Within Fianna Fail, he has told TDs he wants to support the legislation, but he has so far been unable to bring the party with him as a significant number are staunchly against it.

However, Mr Martin has repeatedly ruled out having a free vote in the party.

Fianna Fail has postponed making a decision on the legislation.

"If Micheal Martin is cute, there'll be no vote. I presume that's the reason there was no vote taken at the parliamentary party. If it went to a vote, there would be no party politics played on it. But no vote would be a good result for Fianna Fail. Both parties would be happy," a senior government source said.

"It's heading that way, I think a good chance of no vote. It would suit everyone," another senior Fine Gael source said.

Coalition strategists believe there are not enough TDs on the Independent benches who will want to force a vote.

Not having a vote would be attractive for Fine Gael as it would allow TDs opposed to the suicide grounds for an abortion to save face and avoid voting against the party.

Labour is satisfied the legislation meets its long-standing commitment to legislate for the X case so will be satisfied to let it through without a vote.

The junior coalition party also understands this is a highly sensitive issue for Fine Gael.

Sinn Fein faces the potential loss of Peadar Toibin, one of its most high-profile TDs, if the abortion legislation goes to a vote. Fianna Fail's position is still up in air with the party yet to decide on its stance.

On the Independent benches, a number of TDs are on both sides of the argument – some feeling the legislation doesn't go far enough, and more feeling it goes too far.

But both sides would have to come together to make up the numbers to force a vote.

Uncertainty

Government figures believe TDs on the pro-life side such as Mattie McGrath and Michael Healy-Rae will call for a vote, while there is uncertainty over Noel Grealish.

On the pro-choice side, the feeling is Clare Daly will push for a vote, backed by Mick Wallace and Joan Collins.

But there are doubts about how Richard Boyd Barrett, Joe Higgins and Luke 'Ming' Flanagan would react.

Under the 'no vote' scenario, amendments to the legislation would be tabled at committee stage and either accepted or rejected by the Government, without going to a vote.

Irish Independent