FG deputy leader James Reilly calls to repeal Eighth Amendment
Fine Gael deputy leader James Reilly has demanded an abortion referendum early in the next term of government, claiming Irish women who have terminations in the UK are being forced to "sneak back in like criminals".
In an exclusive interview with the Sunday Independent, Dr Reilly said the Coalition must move quickly to repeal the Eighth Amendment, which gives equal right to the life of the mother and the unborn.
The Children's Minister said he "cannot countenance, as a doctor or human being" the scenario whereby women are forced to go through with their pregnancies in cases of fatal foetal abnormalities.
"But most repugnant of all to me is that they have to leave this country for a termination and then sneak back in like criminals to bring their babies' remains back. That's patently wrong," he said.
While admitting he is "less clear-cut" on cases of rape, Dr Reilly said he believes it is "very difficult to ask a woman who has been raped and violated to continue to carry a child."
His intervention in the abortion debate comes as a new Sunday Independent/Millward Brown opinion poll shows a slip in support for a referendum on repealing the Eighth Amendment.
But his demands for a referendum early in the next term of government will heap significant pressure on Taoiseach Enda Kenny to give a similar public commitment. Mr Kenny's refusal to pledge a public vote on the abortion issue has caused deep unease within sections of Fine Gael. Any failure to back the stance of his deputy leader will heighten those tensions.
Meanwhile, Dr Reilly admits he considered quitting politics twice in recent months - following the row over discretionary medical cards and after being sacked as health minister.
"I wondered if there was any point in staying in politics at that time. I couldn't do what I wanted to do in health and when I reflected upon it, I wanted to end the unjust two- tier system - that everybody be treated the same."
And in a clear indication of his deep frustrations while serving as health minister, Dr Reilly says he wasn't given the resources to carry out necessary reform
"When you didn't have the money to do the job, how could you do the job?"
It's the first time the TD has ever spoken about being close to exiting politics as a result of his battles in the Department of Health and at the Cabinet table.
Within Fine Gael, Dr Reilly's popularity has risen significantly in recent months, as backbenchers turn to him for support.
But as the party agonises over how best to address the abortion issue in its election manifesto, Dr Reilly's comments will put it back on top of the agenda.
"I can't countenance, either as a doctor or a human being, the situation that women find themselves in relation to fatal foetal anomalies and the nightmare they have to live on a daily basis," he said.
"People asking: 'When is the baby due? Is it a boy or girl? Have you got the cot yet? Is the room ready?' Knowing that this baby has no chance of survival."
He wants to see the Eighth Amendment repealed early in the next term - but insists the process needs to be carefully managed so that something concrete is put in its place.
There cannot be a scenario of abortion on demand, he insists.
In relation to the choice facing voters at the next election, Dr Reilly admits that people may feel reluctant to support the Government again because of the austerity they endured.
"I hope, when the time comes, they'll perhaps think about why that is and why they had to endure it - because of the mess that was left behind by the previous government. After 14 years of unrivalled money, they left us not just with the cupboards bare but with IOUs all over the place.
"Nonetheless, we can't predict what will happen. A week is a long time in politics, months are an eternity."