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Martin's action – or inaction – will decide what happens next

THERE'S an anecdote knocking around about how a veteran Fine Gael TD dealt with pro-life campaigners who turned up at his constituency office.

The group of 10 arrived in, demanding to speak to the TD. After consulting with the deputy, his secretary told them they would have to wait as he had appointments.

A few hours passed and the secretary came to take all their names and addresses. Upon receiving the list, the wily TD came out and told the group he had no interest in speaking to them because none of them were from his constituency. With that, he waltzed out the door.

The story is recounted as an example of how the smarter TDs are not going to be railroaded by small groups of ardent advocates.

Some TDs say the issue isn't coming up among 'regular' voters. Fine Gael ministers are confidently predicting they won't lose anyone over abortion legislation as there hasn't been a public backlash over the draft of the bill.

Apart from the strident campaigners on the pro-life and pro-choice sides, middle-of-the-road TDs are saying the general public are not engaged on it.

And any Fine Gael TD who does decide to go overboard faces the wrath of party headquarters in the next general election.

What's more, there's the prospect of there being no vote at all on the legislation. How can you lose the whip if you don't vote against the legislation because there is no vote?

Whether that happens depends on how Micheal Martin handles the scenario now presenting itself.

A fortnight on from the publication of the draft Heads of Bill, the apparent leader of the opposition hasn't made a single public utterance on the Protection of Life in Pregnancy Bill 2013. Some leadership. The abdication of responsibility stems from the fine balancing act he is trying to perform within his party.

He has given a clear indication, in private, to his party's TDs and senators of his inclination to support the bill as the least worst option.

But he still runs the risk of losing TDs and senators if he pushes the party into a position. A way around his difficulties would be to back the legislation in principle, oppose certain sections and hope to avoid a vote.

Enda Kenny stuck his neck on the line on the abortion legislation, asking the party and the public to trust him.

Mr Martin doesn't even have to stick his neck on the line. Just stay away from the line.

Irish Independent