Sunday 17 December 2017

Coveney: foetal abnormalities bill 'won't bring down the Government'

Housing Minister Simon Coveney T.D. Picture:Arthur Carron
Housing Minister Simon Coveney T.D. Picture:Arthur Carron

Caroline Crawford and Niall O'Connor

Housing Minister Simon Coveney has raised the prospect of allowing members of the Independent Alliance a free vote on a controversial bill on fatal foetal abnormalities.

Mr Coveney last night stressed that the bill, tabled by Independent TD Mick Wallace, is viewed by the Government as being unconstitutional.

He also warned that the legislation was "raising false expectations for people" and would not change anything even if it was passed.

However, the senior Cabinet member stressed that the issue was not one that would bring down the current Government.

While insisting Fine Gael TDs would not be allowed a free vote on the issue, Mr Coveney opened the door to Independent ministers being allowed to vote according to their conscience.

Read more: Fatal foetal abnormality bill 'raises false expectations for people' - Minister claims

"Lots of people who have been affected by this issue are watching this debate and perhaps hoping that the legislation gets passed in the hope that it will change something. Our view is that because it's not constitutional as a piece of legislation, it can't do that," Mr Coveney said.

"We'd like the Government to stick together on this vote so we can move to a process whereby we can address this issue properly over time, but we also recognise that there will be individuals who will have very strong views and who for whatever reason may chose to vote one way or the other.

"It's not going to break up the Government, I think most people understand that this is an issue that people have very strong personal feelings on."

Mr Wallace's bill proposes that women should be allowed to have a termination, where both a perinatologist and an obstetrician deem the pregnancy to be non-viable.

The bill was the subject of a highly charged debate yesterday, which left a number of TDs in tears. Junior minister John Halligan, who is a member of the Independent Alliance, said he "doesn't know and doesn't care" if the bill is unconstitutional, as deemed by the Attorney General Máire Whelan.

Yesterday, Mr Coveney acknowledged that many people, including within Fine Gael, felt very strongly on the fatal foetal abnormalities bill, adding: "I think, like lots of families, most political parties have deep divisions on this issue."

Mr Coveney said the Government was committed to a process to bring about change through the Citizens' Assembly, saying it would probably result in a referendum.

Government sources last night said the issue would be discussed by Cabinet on Tuesday, but that Taoiseach Enda Kenny remained "hopeful" the alliance would at least abstain.

Irish Independent

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