Martin could lose key lieutenants
Two of FF leader's main men voice concern over vote as church starts anti-abortion campaign
FIANNA FAIL leader Micheal Martin risks losing two of his key lieutenants over the abortion issue.
The news comes after it emerged that the Catholic Church will increase the pressure on government TDs and ministers with 10 weeks of pro-life campaigning from the pulpit right up to the Dail's summer recess.
Priests will be given weekly "briefing notes" prepared by the Catholic Communications Office and will this weekend begin a campaign during Masses of restating the church's opposition to abortion.
Divisions are opening up in Fianna Fail over how to handle the pending abortion legislation, with senior figures Dara Calleary and Michael McGrath known to be deeply unhappy.
Health spokesman Billy Kelleher had been reluctant for the party to discuss the issue until necessary to avoid six months of divisiveness, but it is clear that divisive debate is now in full swing.
Mr Martin was quoted in the media this weekend saying the legislation was "consistent with a pro-life position", but his comments have angered many of his front bench, who have grave personal concerns about the proposed law.
They are also angered by the fact that at the last meeting of the party it was agreed that no public utterances would be made until members had met in the wake of the Oireachtas Health Committee hearings, but Mr Martin spoke before any meeting took place.
Enterprise spokesman Mr Calleary told the Sunday Independent: "I have had serious issues with the legislation. Having read the transcripts of the committee hearings, I still have those concerns. I will be discussing them with the leader."
Fianna Fail has so far managed to avoid any major rift on the abortion issue, but given that many of the parliamentary party hold pro-life views, Mr Martin knows he cannot simply order his troops to adopt a party line. Finance spokesman Mr McGrath upped the ante in calling for a free vote, but Mr Martin would prefer an agreed position.
Mr McGrath declined to comment this weekend. However, others in the party appear to share his view that a free vote should be allowed.
One leading FF figure said: "If he doesn't have a free vote, there will be casualties from the party from the Dail and the Seanad. This issue merits people having the right to vote with their conscience."
There are others in the party who are opposed to allowing a free vote and are demanding that the party oppose the pending legislation.
Over the next two-and-a-half months, one-page information sheets will be sent to priests each week setting out the church's pro-life position in relation to the abortion debate.
In the first salvo to be delivered from pulpits at Masses this weekend, priests have been advised to reiterate the church's position.
The briefing note advises: "It has been reported that there is no change to the law on abortion in Ireland. This is untrue. If there was no change this legislation would not have been published. The proposed legislation gives practical effect to the X Case decision which permits abortion up to birth where suicide is threatened. Ireland is about to cross a fundamental moral Rubicon – the direct and intentional killing of the innocent."
The advisory also recommends two special prayers of intercession centred on the theme of the right to life.
The move will heap further pressure on politicians of all parties, but particularly Fine Gael and Labour deputies who have been subjected to one of the most organised and biggest lobbying campaigns in Irish political history.
As well as hundreds of emails and letters, TDs and senators are being inundated with callers to constituency offices and at area clinics by pro-life advocates. There have also been several serious incidents of verbal abuse aimed at government TDs.