Wednesday 21 August 2019

Cohort of Fine Gael TDs fears 'abortion on demand'

Minister for Health Leo Varadkar
Minister for Health Leo Varadkar

Niall O'Connor and Philip Ryan

A significant number of Fine Gael politicians have said they may oppose efforts to repeal the Eighth Amendment for fear that it could pave the way for 'abortion on demand'.

Over 20 TDs and senators who spoke to the Irish Independent about the anticipated referendum have voiced concern, of varying degree, about a more liberalised abortion regime.

The large number who have expressed unease about repealing the Eighth Amendment lends weight to the decision by Taoiseach Enda Kenny to allow his party a free vote.

But yesterday, Health Minister Leo Varadkar intervened into the debate and suggested that the Constitution would still include a provision to protect the unborn, regardless of the outcome of a review.

Mr Varadkar said he was keen to keep a provision of some sort so as to avoid the introduction of an abortion regime similar to the UK's.

He reiterated yesterday that he is "pro-life".

Meanwhile, Fine Gael deputy leader James Reilly, whose intervention in the abortion debate infuriated senior party figures, will tomorrow face the Taoiseach for the first time since last week's dramatic row.

After being given a severe reprimand in front of his colleagues, Dr Reilly faced down the Taoiseach three times over his call to repeal the Eighth, saying: "I did it. I believe. And I'll do it again."

Sources have told this newspaper that Dr Reilly feared he could be sacked as a result of directly challenging Mr Kenny's authority.

But on Friday, Dr Reilly delivered an unscripted speech, during which he issued a thinly veiled warning to his party that he would not be silenced over the issue.

"Be determined to bring change that you believe in," Dr Reilly told a group of young voters.

"And never shy away from a difficult stop or stand back because others try to shut you down," the Dublin Fingal TD added.

Within Fine Gael, the events of recent days have laid bare the major differences in the views held by the more liberal TDs and the conservative wing of the party.

While a sizeable number of TDs and senators said they were not prepared to go on the record on the abortion issue at present, others said they were strongly "pro-life" and expressed serious caution about repealing the Eighth Amendment.

Meath West TD Ray Butler said he previously had difficulty in supporting the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill, the introduction of which led to seven Fine Gael members losing the party whip.

"There are different views within the party about this and I welcome the way it was handled by the Taoiseach," Mr Butler said.

"I don't want to see a situation whereby abortion clinics are opened on every street corner."

Wicklow/East Carlow TD Andrew Doyle said he was "very cautious" about repealing the Eighth Amendment and that he did not feel it was an issue he would canvass over.

"It's a very, very sensitive matter," Mr Doyle added.

His party colleague James Bannon said he was "pro-life" and that it was "very important that the Taoiseach has given us a choice" in relation to the removal of the whip.

"There are circumstances when TDs should be allowed to vote via their consciences," Mr Bannon added.

Clare TD Pat Breen said he wished to await the outcome of the forum announced by Mr Kenny.

"I am not in favour of abortion on demand, so we will need to see what comes from the Citizens' Convention.

"It is not as simple an issue of just saying, 'Let's repeal the Eighth Amendment'."

And Kerry TD Brendan Griffin said he was concerned that a repeal of the Eighth Amendment "leaves the door open for things I don't want to see".

But he added that he believes a referendum may be needed in order to deal with cases such as fatal foetal abnormality and rape.

"There's an awful lot to be done before we reach that point."

Irish Independent

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