Wednesday 21 February 2018

FG wins the war but loses a vital soldier

IT couldn't have been more starkly different from the confusion and fevered speculation of the previous day.

A tense atmosphere spread through the packed Dail chamber as a vote was called on Amendment 56 which sought the removal of the suicide clause from the abortion legislation.

Everybody knew by now that the Government was going to lose a junior minister at some stage of the slow passage of the bill. It wasn't a question of 'if' Lucinda Creighton would jump – it was merely a question of 'when'.

The die was cast and Lucinda was standing on the banks of the Rubicon, preparing to wade across into the Great Unknown of life as an Independent.

About 8.45pm, the division bells sounded. Lucinda took her seat in the very front row of the Fine Gael benches, in front of a line of senior ministers.

All eyes were on her. The light flashed red. Lucinda bit her lip and looked down. A sudden hush fell over the entire chamber. So often there is glee among the opposition when a ministerial career bites the dust. But there wasn't a peep from the far side of the room.

Seated beside her was Junior Minister Brian Hayes. As soon as he spotted the single dissenting light among a sea of green, he turned to her and asked a question – possibly if she was sure of her fateful choice.

"Yes," she said to him, and smiled.

Then she sat quietly, leafing through the amendments. There were grim faces behind her – some of her colleagues are regretful, others were unimpressed.

There was a strange, almost palpable sense of loss in the room. After the vote, she rose and went over to where the Taoiseach was sitting, leaned in and shook his hand.

Enda began to chat to her, and she sat on the step beside him. After a turbulent relationship over the past few years, there was no overt display of bitterness at the end.

Afterwards she spoke to the media on the plinth as dusk fell. She was composed.

"I hold no rancour or bitterness or anything like that. I'm very sad, but I genuinely wish Enda Kenny and all of the Government the very best," she said, admitting, "this is a huge shock to me".

Inside the chamber the debate resumed. The Government may have won the abortion war, but victory comes at a price – five FG comrades fell in the heat of battle. But, last night at least, Lucinda was bloodied but unbowed.

Irish Independent

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