Tuesday 23 January 2018

Creighton faces wilderness over abortion law

Creighton: trenchant opposition
Creighton: trenchant opposition

Fiach Kelly and Michael Brennan

Lucinda Creighton is facing into the political wilderness as her trenchant opposition to the abortion legislation will cost her the Fine Gael whip and her junior ministerial position.

However, the European Affairs Minister was isolated as she became the only one of the latest batch of Fine Gael rebels to go against the abortion bill as the Dail voted to continue the debate until 5am.

On a tension-filled day of drama in Leinster House, Taoiseach Enda Kenny's 'get tough' policy with Fine Gael rebels paid dividends as three other dissenters swung into line. Labour welcomed the expected Dail decision to pass the abortion bill by an overwhelming majority as a "great day for the women of Ireland".

Ms Creighton's opposition makes her the most high-profile Fine Gael figure to fall foul of Mr Kenny's insistence party TDs must vote for the legislation, regardless of their personal views.

She was poised to become the fifth Fine Gael TD to lose the party whip over abortion.

Fine Gael TDs Michelle Mulherin, John O'Mahony and John-Paul Phelan indicated their intention to vote for the legislation.

The debate on the final attempts to amend the legislation drifted into the early hours of the morning as the Government rejected a series of amendments, including attempts to remove the suicide clause.

Ms Creighton delivered her strongest criticism to the abortion legislation to date – lining herself up to vote against it.

"Why are we insisting that abortion, which has no medical grounding, will be enshrined in our statute book as the only treatment for women who find themselves in that desperate place?" she said.

"For me, it is the distortion of facts and in some cases revisionism which disturbs me most. I very much support the overall intention of the legislation, which is supposed to be about protecting and saving the lives of women and babies, but I cannot support a clause which is essentially built on sand."

Turning directly to Health Minister James Reilly, she castigated her own government's Protection of Human Life During Pregnancy Bill. "I am lost for words because I cannot understand why this proposal is being insisted upon by you and your government," she said.

Ms Mulherin admitted Mr Kenny's hardline stance with Fine Gael TDs who wanted to vote against the legislation played a big factor in her decision.

She decided to back the bill because she didn't want to get "booted out" of the party.

"I am now faced with either supporting the bill or being booted out of the party, my party, and I am not going to allow myself to be booted out so I am supporting this legislation," she said.

Mr O'Mahony also swung in behind the legislation, saying he had obtained clarification from the Attorney General Maire Whelan that the suicide clause was included because it already existed as a constitutional right.

Kilkenny TD John-Paul Phelan, a close friend of Ms Creighton's, told the Dail he will back the bill, saying Dr Reilly had taken his concerns on board.

However, while he said the bill offered a "realistic" solution, he criticised the approach of the Fine Gael leadership and said it was regrettable some people would be expelled for expressing their views.

Also last night, six left-wing TDs said they were voting against the abortion legislation because it did not go far enough.

CRIMINALISE

After previously backing it, Clare Daly, Joan Collins, Richard Boyd-Barrett, Mick Wallace, Joe Higgins and Luke 'Ming' Flanagan issued a joint statement signalling their intention to vote against the bill because it "criminalises women and is unnecessarily restrictive".

Former Labour Party minister Roisin Shortall said she could not support the bill, citing the lack of term limits, and called for a referendum on the issue.

Justice Minister Alan Shatter hit back at Ms Creighton's Dail speech and criticised the "a la carte" selection of court judgments during the abortion debate.

Labour Senator Ivana Bacik said she had heard many of Ms Creighton's speeches on abortion before and did not have much sympathy for her position.

"It's funny she didn't vote against it on second stage if she felt that strongly about it," she said.

Ms Bacik said she would have liked the bill to go further – such as the right to an abortion when the foetus had no chance of surviving outside the womb.

"I just wanted to be in a Government that actually faced our responsibilities in legislating to pass the bill," she said.

Irish Independent

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