Saturday 17 February 2018

FG rebels demand free vote on abortion to avoid exodus

Fionnan Sheahan and Michael Brennan

FINE Gael TDs are banking on forcing Taoiseach Enda Kenny to allow a free vote on abortion legislation to prevent a threatened exodus from the party.

It comes as a hard-hitting review into the death of tragic mum-to-be Savita Halappanavar (pictured) found that major failures in her care led staff at University Hospital Galway to underestimate the seriousness of her condition

Three of Mr Kenny's TDs will almost definitely vote against the Protection of Life Bill.

A further dozen members are still expressing strong concerns about the legislation and there is speculation about some of them also losing the party whip by opposing the bill.

Although a concerted effort is being organised to convince Mr Kenny to allow a free vote, the prospect is accepted as unlikely as the Taoiseach has so firmly ruled out such a concession.

Fine Gael TDs Peter Mathews from Dublin South, Terence Flanagan from Dublin North East and Brian Walsh are regarded as certainties to vote against the legislation.

Savita Halappanavar
Savita Halappanavar

Mr Kenny’s constituency colleague John O’Mahony, from Mayo, is viewed by the party hierarchy as also in danger of going overboard.

Senators Paul Bradford and Fidelma Healy-Eames are the most likely in the Seanad to vote against the legislation.

After that, there is a raft of TDs and senators with problems on the legislation who are regarded as likely to vote against if there was a free vote.

There are still doubts over the intentions of Damien English, Michelle Mulherin, Peter Fitzpatrick, John-Paul Phelan and Billy Timmins and Senators Terry Brennan, Michael Mullins, Tom Sheahan and Michael D’Arcy.

Individuals in this group are viewed as having the potential to vote against it.

Concerns

Junior minister Lucinda Creighton is understood to still have concerns and is not committing to voting for the legislation.

However, senior party figures regard her as unlikely to vote against the legislation.

There is a further group with concerns, but regarded as not likely to vote against the party whip, including TDs James Bannon, Ray Butler, Paudie Coffey, Sean Conlon, Noel Coonan, Michael Creed and John Deasy and Senator Paul Coghlan.

But Fine Gael Senator Catherine Noone, who had previously expressed reservations about the inclusion of suicide as grounds for abortion, now says she is satisfied with the safeguards in the bill.

Mr Mathews is tabling motions at next week’s meeting of the Fine Gael parliamentary party calling for a free vote and the removal of the suicide clause from the bill. Although these motions will be defeated, they could still get a lot of support.

Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams last night warned a party TD would be disciplined if he voted against the party's position on the abortion legislation.

The party's enterprise spokesman Peadar Toibin says he will vote against the legislation, even though Sinn Fein has clearly indicated it will be supporting the bill.

“It would be a serious breach of party rules for any TD to vote against the party position and they would be subject to party discipline,” said Mr Adams.

Irish Independent

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