Friday 13 December 2019

Labour insist TD vote against coalition was 'mistake'

Michael McNamara,Labour deputy for Clare
Michael McNamara,Labour deputy for Clare

Fiach Kelly Political Correspondent

A LABOUR TD voted against the Government today in an early morning shock on the abortion bill - but party bosses claimed it was a mistake.

Clare deputy Michael McNamara voted with an opposition amendment on fatal foetal abnormalities just before the Dail adjourned at 5am this morning.

The abortion debate is expected to resume again at 4pm today after this morning's deadline passed without a final vote on the bill.

It is expected the final vote will be later tonight, meaning European Affairs Minister Lucinda Creighton gets a 24 hour reprieve before having to cast her vote on the legislation.

Ms Creighton is poised to vote against the Government in a move that would see her lose her junior ministry and be expelled from the Fine Gael parliamentary party.

But Mr McNamara's vote caused the most surprise this morning, with shocked Labour colleagues huddling around him after he voted for Independent TD Catherine Murphy's amendment calling for abortions in the case of fatal foetal abnormalities.

Mr McNamara did not return calls this morning, but Labour whip Emmet Stagg said he believed it was a genuine mistake. He also said the Clare deputy would not be punished if this was the case.

But around 10 TDs were seen pleading with Mr McNamara in the Dail chamber in an attempt to get him to switch his vote, with some deputies visibly upset.

He was also pulled down a side corridor upon leaving the chamber for a heated conversation with Labour deputy leader Joan Burton and other party colleagues, before he left Leinster House by a back entrance.

Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore is away on government business but Mr Stagg initially said efforts were being made to change the vote.

However, he later admitted this could not be done. He said the Clare TD will not be punished - the usual sanction is losing the party whip - even if the record cannot be changed.

"Even it it can't be changed and I am satisfied it was a genuine mistake, then I'll be happy," Mr Stagg said.

The Government defeated the motion comfortably, by 124 to 19. Ms Creighton voted with the Coalition, as she had done on an earlier vote on other amendments, but she is still expected to vote against the wider bill.

The first amendment was tabled by Sinn Fein TD Peadar Toibin, but the Government won by 135 votes to 24.

The four Fine Gael TDs who voted against the Coalition last week - Terence Flanagan, Brian Walsh, Billy Timmins and Peter Mathews - did so again.

Sinn Fein voted with the Government, but Mr Toibin voted against, as did 13 out of 19 Fianna Fail TDs and a number of Independents, including Colm Keaveney, Denis Naughten, Mattie McGrath, Michael Healy-Rae and Michael Lowry.

Roisin Shortall voted with the Government on Mr Toibin's amendment but said she could not support the bill in its entirety and called for an abortion referendum to be held in October, with term limits as its main issue.

The debate saw Heath Minister James Reilly counter some of the arguments made by Ms Creighton in her Dail speech yesterday.

Ms Creighton had claimed people were hiding behind the Supreme Court decision on the X Case, but Dr Reilly dismissed this.

"Any suggestion we cower behind the Supreme Court, I utterly reject," he said. He also said Ms Creighton's arguments were "not alone not compelling, but deeply flawed".

Ms Creighton responded by saying "the idea that you can't analyse, parse...or question a Supreme Court judgement is clearly wrong".

Carlow Kilkenny TD John Paul Phelan - previously seen as a Fine Gael waverer - also promised to support the Government.

Mr Phelan told the Dail he will back the bill, saying Dr Reilly had taken his concerns on board. However, while he said the bill offered a "realistic" solution, he criticised the approach of the Fine Gael leadership and said it was regrettable some people would be expelled for expressing their views

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