Saturday 25 January 2020

Kenny faces backbench abortion revolt

Coalition at loggerheads over abortion

FINE Gael TDs are voicing strong opposition to introducing legislation that recognises suicide as grounds for abortion – with junior minister Lucinda Creighton critical of the Government’s rush to bring in laws.

Fine Gael TD John O’Mahony, a constituency colleague of Taoiseach Enda Kenny, warned ministers at an internal meeting: "Don’t take my vote for granted".

Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore has succeeded in having a decision by the Government on abortion laws fast-tracked, despite the opposition of senior Fine Gael figures who regard the subject as a "minefield".

Last night the Taoiseach gave his clearest signal yet that suicide will be legitimate grounds for the termination of a pregnancy.

Mr Kenny indicated that the Government would address the suicide grounds in its response, and said it would not be just a box-ticking exercise.

But major concerns remain within Fine Gael over the scope of the legislation.

A minister last night told the Irish Independent the decision was still a "minefield".

Justice Minister Alan Shatter later insisted the Government will not be considering abortion on demand "in any shape or form".

In a strongly-worded speech Mr Shatter said: "We should also be clear on what we are not doing. We are not considering,in any shape or form, abortion on demand as is alleged by some."

Mr Shatter also pointedly said the Government would not be addressing a number of other issues, such as the termination of a pregnancy resulting from rape or where there is a foetal abnormality.

But he did condemn the status quo – "the truth is we have had, for three decades, a deeply dysfunctional and obtuse legal architecture badly in need of reform".

He added: "Whatever action Government takes we will still have in this country one of the most restrictive laws in Europe with regard to the termination of pregnancies."

He also said he believed the 150 year old law making abortion an offence needed to be repealed and replaced with "modern language".

And he added: "In the absence of constitutional change there will continue to be a British solution to this Irish problem."

Mr Shatter and Health Minister James Reilly were met with an array of criticism over the Government's stance at a party briefing last night.

Some Fine Gael TDs are concerned about safeguards, and feel that if adequate psychiatric tests are not in place, the regime will be same as in England.

Fine Gael TD Michelle Mulherin warned that legislation including the threat of suicide as grounds for abortion may be unconstitutional - and would in effect be abortion on demand.

Among the TDs to express concerns at the meeting were Ms Creighton, Peter Mathews, Billy Timmins, Terence Flanagan and James Bannon.

Ms Creighton pointed out that 95pc of abortions carried out in the UK in 2009 were on 'mental health' grounds.

She also said bulldozing through a decision before Christmas is unfair, suppresses debate and eliminates the potential for consensus.

She also pointed to Fine Gael's pre-election promise not to introduce legislation.

The Cabinet yesterday decided to:

- Publish the expert report.

- Debate its contents in the Dail next week.

- Make a decision before the Dail breaks for Christmas.

- Have public hearings at the Oireachtas health committee in early January.

Irish Independent

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