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FG rebels tell Taoiseach they won’t support abortion bill

SEVERAL Fine Gael backbenchers indicated to Taoiseach Enda Kenny last night that they will not be able to vote for the abortion legislation.

Fine Gael ministers, TDs and senators debated the legislation for more than five hours, with sparks flying between junior minister Lucinda Creighton and Health Minister Dr James Reilly.

Fianna Fail's position towards the legislation is also regarded as softening, with the party split on the issue. A free vote is again being mooted in the party.

Sinn Fein clearly indicated it will be supporting the legislation.

An isolated suggestion that the Government should push on with a referendum on abortion as the next step was shot down at a Labour Party meeting.

Mr Kenny said yesterday the new abortion bill will not lead to "abortion on demand" and the law on abortion will not be changed.

The Fine Gael meeting last night was widely described as calm and constructive, with no repeat of the previous week's fireworks, although there were testy remarks by Ms Creighton towards Dr Reilly.

Mr Kenny's approach was widely praised, with Cabinet ministers weighing in behind the Government decision.

Although the majority of the more than 50 speakers were supportive of the bill, the meeting did hear from several who still have reservations.

"The silent majority were heard from at the meeting," a source said.

Fine Gael TDs John O'Mahony and Anthony Lawlor and Senator Michael Mullins were said to have been "emotional", with Mr O'Mahony having to leave the room to compose himself, but saying he wanted to engage on the legislation.

Terence Flanagan said he gave an election commitment not to vote for abortion.

Billy Timmins questioned the make-up of the Expert Group on abortion. Senators Paul Bradford and Fidelma Healy-Eames signalled their deep discomfort.

TD John-Paul Phelan was said to have "demolished the argument" for the suicide grounds in the bill.

Peter Mathews is said to have given a "sermon" and repeated his threat to vote against it.

Ms Creighton challenged Dr Reilly over comments he made at a recent Fine Gael national executive meeting, where he suggested some people were using the issue for political gain.

She asked him to name exactly who he was talking about. She also outlined her legal concerns about the legislation.

Fianna Fail could outline its position on abortion later today after a special parliamentary party meeting, although TDs and senators are closely split on the issue.

Those arguing against backing the Government's legislation are said to have the upper hand but the leadership is understood to be in favour of supporting the Coalition's approach.

The Taoiseach said such suggestions were disrespectful to women, adding: "This is a compassionate country."

He said it is the Government's intention to have the bill passed by the Dail summer recess.

Independent TD Clare Daly said the bill doesn't go far enough, and will ensure women continue travelling to Britain for abortions.

Mr Kenny appealed for a calm debate on the abortion legislation, the Protection of Life in Pregnancy Bill, 2013.

He said he hoped Fine Gael TDs will vote for the legislation, but ruled out any free vote.

Mr Kenny said the law on abortion is not "being changed" with the legislation.

On the technical detail of the abortion legislation, a number of new elements emerged:

• The HSE will have to report to Government on the number of abortions.

• A new definition of the unborn is enshrined in the legislation.

• There is no cut-off point in to the pregnancy where the abortion can be carried out.

Irish Independent