Kenny: I'm a Catholic, not a Catholic Taoiseach
TAOISEACH Enda Kenny has forcefully sought to separate the roles of church and State by delivering a rebuke to the Catholic hierarchy in the abortion debate and declaring he was "not a Catholic Taoiseach".
The Taoiseach's move to dismiss the criticism of the Catholic Church and pro-life campaigners comes as the Coalition finally published the text of the landmark abortion legislation at 12.30 am this morning.
A new opinion poll shows the Government has the support of three out of four voters on the legislation to provide for the X Case. An even larger majority of voters actually want wider access to abortion, particularly in cases of foetal abnormalities and rape or abuse.
The 18-page bill has not changed substantially from the earlier draft but the wording does:
* List the 24 hospitals where abortions can take place.
* Alter which psychiatrists will be involved in assessments of suicidal pregnant women.
* Narrow the definition of the criminal offence of carrying out an illegal abortion.
* Allow the revoking of the licences of hospitals not following the guidelines.
However, there is no proposal for a statutory review of the legislation, beyond the annual report from the HSE on the number of abortions carried out, applications, assessments and appeals.
In his strongest statement since his July 2011 speech in reaction to the Cloyne Report on clerical abuse, Mr Kenny rejected the attacks from the church's leadership.
In the Dail, Mr Kenny responded strongly to the accusation by the Catholic bishops that the Government was misleading people about the abortion bill.
Without mentioning the bishops directly, Mr Kenny said it was his “duty” to bring the bill through.
“I am proud to stand here as a public representative, as a Taoiseach who happens to be a Catholic but not a Catholic Taoiseach. A Taoiseach for all of the people – that's my job,” he said.
The Government will be boosted by a new opinion poll showing strong support for the legislation.
The poll shows 75pc are in favour of the legislation, 14pc are against and 11pc have no opinion.
Yet there is only a narrow majority in favour of abortion where a woman is threatening suicide with 52pc support, 29pc against and 19pc having no opinion.
The Ipsos MRBI poll for the ‘The Irish Times’ was taken on Monday and Tuesday of this week.
But it also shows support for abortions in other circumstances:
● 89pc where a woman’s life is at risk.
● 83pc where the foetus cannot survive outside the womb.
● 81pc in cases of rape or abuse.
● 78pc where a woman’s health is at risk.
But there is opposition to abortion being allowed where a woman deems it to be in her best interest, with 46pc against, 39pc in favour and 15pc with no opinion.
Last night, Health Minister James Reilly briefed Fine Gael TDs and senators on the contents of the bill and answered questions.
However, the meeting was not heated and TDs were “trying to get their heads around” what was proposed.
Justice Minister Alan Shatter gave a briefing on the legal aspects of the bill.
Questions were put to the ministers by Peter Mathews, Terence Flanagan, Michael Creed, Michelle Mulherin, Kieran O’Donnell and John- Paul Phelan.
Mr Mathews also raised eyebrows by handing out a copy of three motions about abortion which he wants put to the party next week.
Mr Kenny told the Dail he was getting up to 100 letters and emails per day from opponents of the abortion legislation.
But he has been accused of “demonising” the pro-life movement after he complained in the Dail of being sent plastic foetuses, letters written in blood and being accused of having the death of 20 million babies on his soul.
It is understood that Mr Kenny’s department has been getting a constant stream of correspondence about the abortion legislation – with up to 100 items arriving at his office in Dublin every day.
However, most of the letters and emails were from people expressing their views in a normal fashion, rather than being abusive.
But the pro-life campaign accused Mr Kenny of making “lurid claims” in the wake of the huge pro-life rally in Dublin last weekend.
Its spokeswoman Cora Sherlock said that pro-life people were also suffering harassment, with some members getting death threats last week.
“We believe that the Taoiseach is trying to make capital out of this situation. It’s a disgusting attempt to demonise the pro-life movement rather than debate the proposed legislation,” she said.