Chief Whip wanted to ‘bring down Coalition’ says Ferris
Ousted Labour TD Anne Ferris has claimed her party's chief whip Emmet Stagg suggested collapsing the Coalition over the divisive abortion bill which forced her from the party.
The shock claim comes as a Sunday Independent/ Millward Brown poll finds more than half of people want the contentious Eighth Amendment of the constitution repealed to allow for terminations in cases of unwanted pregnancies.
And more worryingly for Tánaiste Joan Burton after a week of controversy over abortion, the vast majority of Labour supporters are in favour of the constitutional change.
In an exclusive interview with the Sunday Independent, Ms Ferris reveals Mr Stagg, a senior and influential Labour stalwart, said the abortion controversy "wouldn't be the worst issue to go out on" almost a week before she was forced from the parliamentary party for voting with her conscience.
Mr Stagg denied he made the suggestion and claims Ms Ferris "misunderstood" his remarks in the aftermath of a debate on a bill seeking to legislate for terminations for cases of fatal foetal abnormalities.
The war of words follows a week of internal conflict for Labour which resulted in Ms Ferris losing the party whip for voting in favour of the legislation put forward by Independent TD Clare Daly.
The official line from Labour was it could not vote for the legislation because it was unconstitutional.
But speaking after her exit from the parliamentary party, Ms Ferris rounded on her former colleagues saying it was "shameful" not to support a piece of legislation that is an essential part of Labour policy.
"I honestly believe there were people in the chamber hiding behind the constitution and using it as an excuse not to deal with that bill," she told the Sunday Independent.
Ms Ferris also hit out at Labour members who are ardently pro choice but have allowed themselves to be "gagged" since they entered Government.
Ms Ferris ruled out rushing back to the party and will instead "take time" to consider her options.
"I feel in a very lonely place at the moment. They haven't been rushing to the phone to say 'how are you feeling Anne, sorry we couldn't support you'. No one has picked up the phone to ring me," she said
"I don't want to upset people because it's not my style. At the same time, I am fairly resolute that I am going to take some time out now and figure out what is the best thing for me to do for the future."
"I feel very hurt and very disappointed that the Labour Party didn't grasp the opportunity to progress the legislation that would have made a huge difference to the lives of women and their families.
"It has the support of the majority of the people in the country and I believe that all the issues regarding the constitutionality of the bill could have been teased out," she added.
She said it is unlikely Labour will have an opportunity after the next General Election to help women with unviable pregnancies and the next 12 months is the party's time to address the issue.
"We had an opportunity to do it, in my humble opinion, and I think it's shameful from the Labour Party that we didn't," she told this newspaper.
Ms Ferris, who almost lost the party whip last month over the passing of the terms of reference for the mother and baby homes inquiry, also urged Ms Burton to listen to her party members.
"I think it is a danger of anybody, not just people in the Labour Party, to find themselves surrounded by their advisors and listening to what they are being told by these advisors. That is a huge danger," she said.
"They are taking their finger off the pulse. They should be listening to their TDs and senators or to the people on the street," she added. Labour was severely damaged by last week's abortion controversy despite being the only party with clear policy on the issue.
Labour TDs were given an emergency briefing on the constitutional reasons for voting against the bill as tensions grew within the party ranks.
Both Sinn Fein and Fianna Fail ducked the issue by abstaining and allowing a free vote when the bill was put before the Dail on Tuesday. Labour appealed to Fine Gael to allow a free vote on the hugely controversial issue but was shot down by their majority Coalition partner.
A debate on Ms Daly's bill was held two weeks ago and it is after this debate Ms Ferris claims she spoke with Mr Stagg about Labour's options ahead of a vote the following week.
Ms Ferris said she was "heartened" by Mr Stagg's comment that Labour could walk on the issue and felt it showed he supported her stance. However, Mr Stagg denied outright he made the remarks and said he has no intention of bringing down the Coalition over any issue.
"I'm not in the field of looking for something good to go out on, I'm in the field of staying in for as long as possible," Mr Stagg told the Sunday Independent.
"I'm not calling her a liar or anything like that. I'm just saying she must have misunderstood me. I didn't say anything like that and I wouldn't say anything in 100 years of that. My job is keeping people in."
Mr Stagg said his party would "love" to have a referendum on the Eighth Amendment but Fine Gael would not allow it. He also hit out at Fianna Fail and Sinn Fein for refusing to have a stance on abortion.