Thursday 18 January 2018

Fine Gael fears six will vote against new law on abortion

Fionnan Sheahan, Fiach Kelly and Lise Hand

UP to half-a-dozen Fine Gael TDs and senators will vote against abortion legislation being finalised by the Coalition, senior party figures fear.

And Junior Minister Lucinda Creighton made an astonishing intervention into the debate with a deeply personal account of why she is not a "fanatic or a fundamentalist".

She is one of the Fine Gael backbenchers concerned that the forthcoming legislation could "open the floodgates" by including the risk of suicide as grounds for an abortion.

Ms Creighton said that she was worried about allowing for abortion where a woman was suicidal because 113 consultant psychiatrists had said that such a step had "no basis in medical evidence".

Senior Fine Gael figures say there is now a growing feeling that several TDs and senators will lose the party whip as a result of the law, particularly the suicide grounds.

Labour is successfully pushing back against Fine Gael's demands for six doctors to approve an abortion where there is a threat of suicide.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny has defended Health Minister James Reilly after his apparent denials of proposals for six consultants in the draft legislation were contradicted.

Talks between the parties are said to be making progress, with both sides willing to find a solution.

The issue is coming down to the number of consultants involved in approving an abortion where there is a threat of suicide.

Dr Reilly's proposal for six consultants appears to be dead in the water, but the question of there being a two-phase process is still on the table.

Labour are vying for a system along the lines of the recommendation in the Expert Group on Abortion.

"The key point of the Expert Group was that these are medical decisions. It is easy to say what won't work," a coalition source said.

A number of informed Fine Gael sources said those who are thought to be in extreme doubt when it comes to voting for the abortion legislation include TDs John O'Mahony, Peter Mathews and Terence Flanagan and senators Paul Bradford and Fidelma Healy-Eames.

There are also question marks over the intentions of junior minister Lucinda Creighton and TDs Michelle Mulherin and James Bannon, and Senator Catherine Noone.

Also regarded as uncomfortable are TDs John Deasy, Billy Timmins and Michael Creed, along with Senators Michael Mullins and Paul Coghlan.

"There is a strong possibility now of up to about six being lost. But look at Denis Naughten (the Fine Gael TD who voted against the Coalition on Roscommon hospital). Once you're gone, that's it. If the Government had a very small majority, maybe they'd be back soon, but not with this majority," a senior Fine Gael source said.

This week's Fine Gael parliamentary meeting was marred by bitter exchanges. Mr Kenny had a testy exchange with Mr Mathews, who asked if there would be a free vote.

The Taoiseach told Mr Mathews: "You don't know what you're talking about", to which Mr Mathews replied: "You do what you have to do, Taoiseach, and I'll do what I have to do."

Mr Kenny said Mr Mathews wasn't aware of "what happened here in the 1980s" and spoke of family members of a TD at the time being targeted during abortion referendums.

Others said Mr Mathews said he would not vote under duress, and many took it the outspoken TD was lining up to vote against the legislation.

Mr Mathews himself did not return calls.

Mr Kenny said everything is on the table in the abortion talks with Labour, but Senator Paul Bradford asked what the Fine Gael proposals were and if they reflected party policy and principles.

Senator Noone said her mother was a psychiatrist for 35 years and never came across a case of the threat of suicide as grounds for abortion.

Senator Healy-Eames said Labour was the "superior voice" in the debate. But Bernard Durkan said Labour had to be kept on board, otherwise there would be a general election.


And Paul Connaughton Jnr told the party leadership to do whatever had to be done to get the issue resolved.

Yesterday's Irish Independent revealed the plan for six doctors was in the draft legislation, contrary to the apparent denials of Dr Reilly.

Contrary to a suggestion from Dr Reilly's spokesman, the text printed in this newspaper was from the latest draft – and not an earlier version.

The minister's spokesman said "somebody" had "suggested" to him it was an early draft.

But the spokesman failed to identify this mystery person, but that it wasn't the minister, and didn't know how familiar with the legislation the individual concerned was.

The spokesman had no comment on the actual content of the bill or the text published in this newspaper.

Irish Independent

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