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Monday 23 April 2018

Labour TDs in revolt over abortion bill as crucial vote looms

Burton tells her backbenchers that Clare Daly's bill is 'unconstitutional'

Philip Ryan

Philip Ryan

LABOUR TDs have demanded a comprehensive briefing on constitutional reasons for voting against a controversial bill that would allow abortions in the case of fatal foetal abnormalities.

The bill was put before the Dail by Independent TD Clare Daly last week and will be voted on this Tuesday.

The proposed legislation has divided Labour, with many TDs calling for a free vote as they believe the bill is in line with the party's policy on abortion. However, Tanaiste and Labour leader Joan Burton insisted Ms Daly's proposal was unconstitutional and urged members to vote down the legislation.

In an attempt to quell unrest among party members, Labour officials will this week brief TDs on legal advice received from Attorney General Marie Whelan, which rules out legislating for terminations in cases of unviable pregnancies.

A Labour spokesman last night said any party TD that votes against the Government on the issue will lose the party whip.

However, the party hopes this will not happen after TDs are briefed on the Attorney General's legal advice.

It is understood a large faction within the party supports Ms Daly's proposals and would vote for her legislative changes.

Wicklow TD Anne Ferris has indicated she may vote in favour of the bill when it goes before the Dail on Tuesday.

Ms Ferris was among 14 Labour TDs who wrote to the former Health Minister, James Reilly, asking him to explore options for bringing about legislative changes which would allow for terminations in cases of unviable pregnancies.

An internal Labour Party committee previously examined options for allowing terminations in such cases but could not find a solution.

Labour Minister Kevin Humphreys told the Sunday Independent: "Nobody is particularly happy with voting against this but unfortunately it's unconstitutional."

He added: "The only way to deal with this is to repeal the Eight Amendment and put in new legislation and that's what the Labour Party will do."

The contentious abortion debate is now set to become a central issue for all parties ahead of the next general election.

Labour will commit to legislating for fatal foetal abnormalities in its election manifesto and make it a condition for going into any future government.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny is coming under increasing pressure to clarify Fine Gael's stance ahead of an election planned for next year.

Health Minister Leo Varadkar also heaped pressure on the Taoiseach by insisting he would urge the party to include reforms on terminations for unviable pregnancies in its election manifesto.

"He will be petitioning the party to fight the next election on the basis of holding a referendum on that issue," Mr Varadkar's spokeman told the Sunday Independent.

However, Mr Varadkar's view is not shared by all his parliamentary colleagues, and he will face an uphill battle convincing his party before the country goes to the polls.

Sinn Fein will abstain from voting on Deputy Daly's bill as a motion on the matter is going before the party's Ard Fheis.

Terminations will also prove a thorny issue for Micheal Martin and Fianna Fail when it prepares its policy ahead of an election.

On Friday, during an emotional debate on Ms Daly's proposed legislative changes, Independent TD Richard Boyd Barrett revealed the trauma he endured when his daughter was born with a fatal foetal abnormality.

Sunday Independent

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