Monday 26 August 2019

Bitter split in Fine Gael after Reilly's call for early referendum to repeal Eighth

Children’s Minister James Reilly is standing over his call for an abortion referendum
Children’s Minister James Reilly is standing over his call for an abortion referendum

Niall O'Connor and Kevin Doyle

A bitter split has emerged among Fine Gael Cabinet ministers over the party's approach towards the divisive issue of the Eighth Amendment, the Irish Independent can reveal.

Major tensions have surfaced following the decision by the party's deputy leader James Reilly to call for a referendum on repealing the Eighth Amendment - which gives equal status to the rights of the mother and the unborn.

Dr Reilly claimed that he "cannot countenance" a scenario whereby women in cases of fatal foetal abnormalities are being "forced to sneak back into this country like criminals".

But his intervention in the divisive abortion debate has infuriated Taoiseach Enda Kenny and other senior Fine Gael figures.

It's understood that ministers Frances Fitzgerald and Paschal Donohoe are strongly of the view the issue needs to be addressed adequately in the party's election manifesto, and perhaps should be referred to the Constitutional Convention.

But others, including the Taoiseach and Finance Minister Michael Noonan have refused to make any commitment whatsoever.

Sources say the Children's Minister was "singled out for blame" for reopening the debate around the country's restrictive abortion regime before Fine Gael had finalised its position.

A senior Government source confirmed last night that Dr Reilly's officials were "admonished" at the weekly meeting of Coalition advisers on Monday.

Mr Kenny, who has so far refused to commit to a referendum, refused to take questions on the matter from members of the media on Monday night.

A spokesman for the Taoiseach described the issue as sensitive and complex.

"It was this Government that took action to legislate for the Protection of Life during Pregnancy Act 20 years after the X case ruling.

"We will outline our position in due course following a conversation within the party. Any future change will require considered and careful public debate."

The statement is identical to the statement released by Jobs Minister Richard Bruton, Arts Minister Heather Humphreys as well as a spokesman for the Fine Gael party.

A spokesman for Mr Varadkar last night said that the party position would be in the manifesto. On Monday, Transport Minister Mr Donohoe said "Irish people will want to revisit" the issue in a referendum at some point.

Justice Minister Ms Fitzgerald has said she never felt the Constitution was "the place to deal with complex issues" such as fatal foetal abnormality.

Requests for comment from Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney and Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan elicited no response.

Irish Independent

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