Fine Gael TDs rage at being 'preached to' by female colleague in abortion debate

Marcella Corcoran Kennedy. Photo: Gareth Chaney, Collins

Kevin Doyle

A private debate among Fine Gael politicians became heated in Leinster House after a female TD was accused of preaching to her male colleagues.

Party chairman Martin Heydon was forced to intervene after what one minister described as the "setting off of a bomb" by Marcella Corcoran Kennedy.

The Offaly TD had urged male members of the party to trust their female counterparts and support the repeal of the Eighth Amendment.

She added that women will be the ones having to make hard choices in the future.

Her contribution sparked a flurry of responses from TDs considered pro-life or who have yet to declare a position on the abortion referendum.

One TD said Ms Corcoran Kennedy's comments were "arrogant" and she "has no idea the level of upset she has caused in the party".

Junior Minister Sean Kyne. Photo: Tom Burke

"She might as well have been wagging her finger at us," said one person who attended the meeting held on Wednesday evening, shortly after the Government confirmed May 25 as polling day.

Another said Ms Corcoran Kennedy's heart was "in the right place" but it "started a row that existed within the party".

The exchanges took up the majority of a two-hour meeting which was also used by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar to brief the party on his decision to expel a Russian diplomat.

It's understood that Junior Minister Sean Kyne (inset, right) spoke up to say people should not be "preaching" and every view should be respected.

Patrick O’Donovan. Photo: Tom Burke

Junior Finance Minister Patrick O'Donovan said he could not let Ms Corcoran Kennedy's comments go unchallenged.

He said there was an attempt to label those opposed to changes in the current law as "Luddites" or part of a "dinosaur brigade".

Senator Michelle Mulherin complained about recent leaks from a previous meeting of female representatives, saying "don't talk to me about solidarity among women".

And Junior Minister Ciarán Cannon said the party reflected Irish society as a whole, adding that he was deeply respectful of women and knew many who are opposed to repeal.

Unlike Fianna Fáil - where major splits on the issue have played out in the Dáil chamber - Fine Gael has maintained a largely united front in public.

As things stand, 23 Fine Gael TDs are supporting abortion up to 12 weeks, 10 have declared their opposition and 17 are undeclared.

However, there has been no significant disputes between the two camps in the party.

But sources expressed concern that fresh debate had "awoken some sleeping bears".

Concern was also noted that some TDs feel they will be forced to state a position before they are ready.

Defence Minister Paul Kehoe said people shouldn't be pushed into one side or other of the debate.

Catherine Byrne, Minister for Health Promotion, explained she is still struggling to decide her view. In response, Mr Varadkar said she didn't have to apologise for being unsure.

"He said it was up to everyone to decide what way to vote and the campaign should be respectful and never personalised," a source said.

Mr Varadkar received a round of applause when he added there would be "no repercussions" for anybody in the party whether they voted for or against in the referendum.

The meeting ended on good terms after a "big frenzy".

"By the end of it people were left in no doubt there is a pro-life wing in the party and they can't be overlooked," a source said.