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Sunday 18 February 2018

FG braced for more losses as abortion rebels gain strength

Fiach Kelly Political Correspondent

FINE Gael is bracing itself for more losses over the abortion bill than it initially expected, with TDs staking out their positions as the contentious legislation is debated in the Dail.

Wicklow TD Billy Timmins has become the latest deputy to say he is voting against the bill, and others say they are weighing up their options ahead of the first vote next week.

The party leadership had hoped the number of TDs losing the whip could be kept as low as three, but that now looks likely to climb.

Mr Timmins's decision to vote against the Coalition brings the number of confirmed Dail rebels to three already, with Galway West TD Brian Walsh and Dublin South's Peter Mathews previously saying they would not support the bill.

Mr Walsh has predicted as many as 10 Oireachtas members could lose the whip on the issue.

Terence Flanagan, a Dublin North East TD, is seen as almost certain to vote against the bill. Mr Flanagan says he has made his mind up, but will not make his position known until he speaks in the Dail next Monday.

Others who have yet to decide or make their views public include Waterford TD John Deasy, Carlow-Kilkenny TD John Paul Phelan, European Affairs Minister Lucinda Creighton, Louth TD Peter Fitzpatrick and Taoiseach Enda Kenny's Mayo constituency colleague, John O'Mahony.

CONCERNS

Mr O'Mahony has met with Mr Kenny in recent days to discuss his concerns, but sources said he got "no joy" from the Taoiseach. However, Cork North West TD Michael Creed says he will support the bill.

Galway senator Fidelma Healy Eames says she is voting against the bill, and there are also doubts over senators Paul Bradford, Tom Sheahan and Terry Brennan.

One TD claimed there was another deputy who would "100pc" vote no.

And other Fine Gael sources said the pressure increases when more TDs commit to voting against it.

"When any few go at all, it's back then in the constituency people say: 'These people make the choice, why can't you?'" one said.

Although Mr Timmins was known to be uncomfortable with the bill, he only took a definite stance yesterday when he spoke during the debate on the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill.

He cited as his main problem the inclusion of the threat of suicide as grounds for an abortion.

"I cannot support this bill as it requires me. . . to legalise the intentional destruction of unborn human life where there is a real and substantive risk of loss of a woman's life by way of suicide," Mr Timmins said, adding that he could support the bill if the suicide elements were removed.

In reading from a letter received from a doctor, Mr Mathews described as "childish" Health Minister James Reilly's claim that he would be able to control abortion.

The letter also said: "Wars come and go but abortion comes and stays and eats its way into the heart of a people as it has done in England."

However, Fianna Fail TDs Niall Collins and Barry Cowen said they would support the bill. Independent TD Denis Naughten said he would not.

Irish Independent

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