Creighton successor lined up in 'political bloodsport'
LUCINDA Creighton's replacement as European Affairs Minister is already being openly discussed in Fine Gael circles, ahead of her expected departure over her opposition to the abortion legislation.
Ms Creighton has reiterated her staunch opposition to the suicide clause in the abortion legislation and outlined an alternative of providing a "pathway of care" for a pregnant woman who is suicidal.
Already, internal speculation has begun among both Fine Gael ministers and TDs on Ms Creighton's replacement. Ms Creighton has made a dramatic last-ditch bid to force changes to the legislation, but set the bar high by tabling a series of significant amendments. Taoiseach Enda Kenny is expected to make a swift appointment to her role in the event of her resignation.
"They're filling her ministerial seat and she's not even gone. That's politics for you. It's a bloodsport," a senior minister told the Irish Independent.
Speaking to the Irish Independent last night, Ms Creighton said she wasn't making pronouncements about how she was going to vote on Wednesday when the legislation comes before the Dail for the last time.
"You are talking about a series of steps. That is what should be provided in the legislation. Abortion is not a treatment for anything," she said.
There is little hope of any of the changes she is seeking being accepted by the Government, so she is set to become the most high-profile casualty of the abortion bill.
Dublin Central TD Paschal Donohoe is the early favourite to replace her, followed by Clare's Pat Breen and Damien English.
The Taoiseach himself was dismissive when asked whether there would be amendments to the abortion bill to save Ms Creighton's political future.
"This matter is not about any one individual at all. This is about the women of Ireland. It's about their lives and their unborn children," he said.
Aside from Ms Creighton's expected departure, there remain concerns in Fine Gael about the intentions of party TDs John O'Mahony, Michelle Mulherin and John-Paul Phelan.
Ms Mulherin is regarded as the "most vulnerable" of the three TDs.
Within Fine Gael circles, there are also suggestions that Ms Creighton is heavily influenced by the views of her husband, Senator Paul Bradford, who has also expressed strong opposition to the bill. However, these are angrily denied by her friends, who point out she has a long track record of articulating her own views. The rumour mill is regarded by Ms Creighton's supporters as being typical of the male-dominated culture in Leinster House.
Transport Minister Leo Varadkar, a long-time friend of Ms Creighton's from their student days in Young Fine Gael, said he would be sorry to see her leave the party.
But the minister said he believed history would prove the TDs who voted against the abortion bill wrong.
Health Minister James Reilly has only tabled what are being described in coalition circles as "technical, superficial amendments" to the Protection of Life during Pregnancy Bill, 2013.
Ms Creighton is due to meet with Dr Reilly early next week to discuss the legislation.
Government sources believe her list of amendments is so "emphatic" that it proves she intends to vote against the legislation – at the cost of the party whip and her junior ministry.
Dr Reilly's two key amendments merely change the language and emphasis of the abortion bill – rather than changing the actual content.
They are minor amendments. One emphasises the need for doctors to preserve both the health of the mother and the unborn baby as far as possible.
And there is another amendment that makes it clearer that it is an offence to intentionally destroy human life.
However, the bill still clearly allows doctors to carry out abortions if the mother's life is at risk – including from the threat of suicide.
Ms Creighton submitted her own detailed amendments to the bill, which would eliminate the threat of suicide as grounds for an abortion.
She is seeking instead to provide a "multi-disciplinary care plan" and therapy for a suicidal woman seeking an abortion.
Another of her amendments calls on the Attorney General to represent the unborn, if a woman is appealing a refusal of an abortion request.
And she also wants time limits to be put in place, so an abortion could not be carried out in the late stages of pregnancy.
But Dr Reilly has already ruled out bringing in time limits or therapy requirements and firmly dismissed any idea of taking out the suicide grounds.
Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore and Labour junior health minister Alex White signed off on Dr Reilly's minor amendments and no more changes are expected.
A Labour Party source said the party was not going to accept any major changes to the bill – and had not been asked to by Fine Gael.
The abortion bill has passed second stage and committee stage in the Dail this week.
A further vote on report stage – which will include any amendments – is due to be held at 10pm next Wednesday.