Sunday 19 November 2017

Crisis for Kenny as revolt over abortion escalates

Taoiseach expels four FG TDs, fears another six could be lost next week

Enda Kenny and Lucinda Creighton in the Dail as the Abortion Bill was voted on
Enda Kenny and Lucinda Creighton in the Dail as the Abortion Bill was voted on
Fine Gael TD Billy Timmins leaving Leinster House after voting against the protection of Life during pregnancy bill
Fine Gael TDs Terence Flanagan and Brian Walsh leaving Leinster House after voting against the protection of Life during pregnancy bill

Fionnan Sheahan Political Editor

TAOISEACH Enda Kenny is facing a growing battle to contain an unprecedented party rebellion in the wake of the abortion bill.

Mr Kenny has adopted a hardline stance against those who voted against the Government's legislation, expelling four members from the parliamentary party last night.

Despite the defections, the vote on the Protection of Life during Pregnancy Bill, 2013 was passed by 138 votes to 24, with three abstentions.

However, the Taoiseach has bigger problems in store as the spotlight now falls on European Affairs Minister Lucinda Creighton who has severe reservations about the legislation, but voted in favour of it last night.

She is one of a number of TDs who may now vote against the legislation when the final vote is held next week.

Including Ms Creighton, there could be a further six Fine Gael TDs expelled from the party, bringing the total to 10.

The four who were expelled last night are being moved out of the party offices and have been told they will not run for Fine Gael in the next general election.

The only constituency in the country where a majority of TDs voted against the legislation was Galway West, which covers the hospital where Savita Halappanavar died.

Fine Gael rebel TDs Brian Walsh, Peter Mathews, Billy Timmins and Terence Flanagan all lost the party whip after voting against the coalition position.

The fallout spread beyond Fine Gael, with Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin suffering an embarrassing blow as two- thirds of his TDs went against his preference by rejecting the legislation. Sinn Fein also lost a TD as rising star Peadar Toibin voted against the new laws.

Ms Creighton is one of a number of TDs who have severe reservations about the legislation, but voted for it strategically last night in the hope of securing changes.

Aside from being the most high-profile potential departure, she has the influence to take a number of TDs with her.

However, she is yet to decide what to do, despite delivering a strong speech on Monday.

"The media seemed to portray the speech as an attempt to put herself over the top. That wasn't the aim. The intention was to put herself in a position where she can go either way and defend her position," a source close to the minister said.

Health Minister James Reilly sought to reassure wavering Fine Gael backbenchers that doctors would have to carry out a "full assessment" of whether a woman at risk of suicide should get an abortion.

"There's no question in this bill of a situation arising where somebody could attend two psychiatrists in the ward and have a procedure carried out in the afternoon," he said.

Mr Kenny faces a week-long battle to contain what is already the largest Dail rebellion in two decades. But some wavering Fine Gael TDs are already indicating they will now back the contentious abortion legislation.

As four Fine Gael TDs voted against the bill – the biggest rebellion since four Labour TDs lost the whip during the Rainbow Coalition – others are still demanding clarity and assurances before they support it in its final stages in the Dail.

But Mr Kenny was given a boost when one TD whose support had been in doubt, Meath West's Ray Butler, said his concerns have now been met and he will be supporting the bill in all its stages.

Others are now accepting that the suicide clause cannot be removed from the legislation and are seeking clarifications and assurances rather than widespread changes.

However, it has been predicted that as many as 10 TDs could lose the Fine Gael whip by the end of the process, but the leadership is working to bring this down to six.

Among those still looking clarifications are John Paul Phelan, James Bannon, John O Mahony, Michelle Mulherin, Peter Fitzpatrick and Sean Conlan.

Most have issues with the suicide clause in the bill, but many, such as Mr Phelan, accept that this cannot be removed as demanded by Ms Creighton. Taoiseach Enda Kenny has ruled out this possibility.

Government Chief Whip Paul Kehoe yesterday told the four Fine Gael deputies who voted against the party that they would be removed from the Fine Gael rooms in Leinster House immediately, would not be able to attend parliamentary party meetings and will removed from Oireachtas committees. Mr Mathews is understood to want to remain on the Fine Gael corridor until the summer recess but this is unlikely to be granted.

Mr Kenny already told some TDs they would not be allowed run as Fine Gael candidates in the next election.

Irish Independent

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