Fourth FG TD joins abortion revolt
Flanagan says he will vote against bill unless concerns over suicide provisions are addressed
IT has been learned that the Fine Gael TD Terence Flanagan will vote against the Government's Pregnancy In Life Bill on Tuesday unless his concerns over the suicide provisions within it are met.
Enda Kenny is now facing the largest political revolt over a single issue by a government party since Fine Gael's then Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave voted against his own party on contraception in 1975. Mr Flanagan, who is believed to have had a lengthy meeting with the Attorney-General this week on the issue, is the fourth Fine Gael TD – after Peter Mathews, Brian Walsh and Billy Timmins – to openly state that he will vote against the bill unless the suicide clause is removed.
"This bill is not in line with Fine Gael values and some of our long-term supporters are very distressed with the current state of affairs,'' he told this newspaper.
"I am totally in favour of women getting all necessary supports during pregnancies,'' he said, but added: "Most people would not be impressed with a TD who voted for something that they believed to be fundamentally wrong."
Mr Flanagan was anxious to clarify that his sole concern was the "real and significant cultural change in our hospitals, where we are putting in place procedures to facilitate abortions on grounds of a threat of suicide''.
He said: "Over the course of two sets of hearings conducted by the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children, we were presented with compelling evidence that abortion is not a treatment for suicidal intent; in fact, it may even contribute to it."
Mr Flanagan also expressed his concern about "late-term abortions" and the damage done to the unborn child, as noted by Dr Sam Coulter Smith, the Master of the Rotunda, who said: "An obstetrician might be required to induce delivery of a viable but extremely premature baby."
The Fine Gael TD said: "It gives me no pleasure to dissent from the whipped position of my party, but prior to the last general election, Fine Gael gave a commitment to the electorate that it was 'opposed to the legalisation of abortion'.
"In deciding how to legislate on such a uniquely life-or-death issue as abortion, a legislator must have the freedom to follow his or her own conscience on the matter."
Mr Flanagan added that he did not agree "with those who say we should set aside our own beliefs when we deal with so grave an issue".
He said that as a legislator "I am constitutionally free to oppose this bill and I am conscientiously obliged to do so".
The Sunday Independent has also learned that the expected departure of the four Fine Gael TDs will be the first of two waves of departures from the party over the issue.
Sources said that, in what will represent the biggest departure of TDs since the formation of the Progressive Democrats, a number of other TDs, such as John O'Mahony, Michelle Mulherin and John Paul Phelan, will not make a final decision until the report stage.
It is believed that two other TDs, Damien English and Kieran O'Donnell, have been engaged in intensive discussions with Health Minister James Reilly.
Meanwhile, the ultimate intentions of the European Affairs Minister Lucinda Creighton are unknown. Concern is also growing over the influence that Labour and Alan Shatter may have over the appointment of two new Supreme Court judges after the Courts Bill has been passed.
One source noted: "Are we going to get an Ivana Bacik-light appointed to the court – or even Ivana herself – and what influence will that have on the social agenda if Mr Gilmore and Mr Shatter are deciding the composition of the Supreme Court?"