Friday 24 November 2017

Creighton on brink as Enda refuses bill amendments

Lucinda Creighton
Lucinda Creighton

Fiach Kelly Political Correspondent

EUROPEAN Affairs Minister Lucinda Creighton is set to vote against the Government and lose the Fine Gael whip – as well as her junior minister job – in the crucial Dail decision on the abortion legislation.

Ms Creighton held a last-minute meeting with Health Minister James Reilly last night, but it is understood none of Ms Creighton's amendments or changes to the contentious legislation was accepted.

It is now likely she will vote against the Coalition, be expelled from the Fine Gael parliamentary party and lose her ministry.

Ahead of tonight's vote, Dr Reilly and Taoiseach Enda Kenny met wavering TDs such as Mayo deputies John O'Mahony and Michelle Mulherin, and Carlow-Kilkenny's John Paul Phelan.

But Ms Creighton only met Dr Reilly – not Mr Kenny – and it is understood she was not invited to meet the Taoiseach.

It came as Mr Kenny was admonished by the European party Fine Gael belongs to for not allowing his TDs a free vote.

A leading member of European People's Party (EPP) wrote to Mr Kenny saying the "conscience rights of Fine Gael parliamentarians have been infringed".

Mr Kenny puts much store in the group, which German Chancellor Angela Merkel is also a member of.

Luca Volente, the honourary president of the EPP at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, which brings together parliamentary members from different European countries, wrote to the Taoiseach days ahead of the vote.

He also takes Mr Kenny to task for imposing "severe penalties" on TDs who vote against the bill.

Ms Creighton is vice president of the European People's Party, and Mr Volente cited EPP rules as a reason why TDs should be given a free vote.

The rule says the EPP considers "it is necessary to respect the right of conscientious objection".

Ironically, this rule was adopted at an EPP conference in Budapest last year where Mr Kenny and other Fine Gael TDs actively canvassed for Ms Creighton's election to the position of vice president.

Mr Volente added: "We consider that is necessary to respect the right of conscientious objection.

" Respect for freedom of conscience would be meaningless if it applied only to the consciences of those with whom we agree."

He said the judgment of Fine Gael TDs who wanted to vote against the bill should be respected.

Ahead of tonight's vote, some 165 amendments have been tabled to the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill, but any accepted will not substantially change it.

While there are mixed views on what Ms Creighton will do, with some TDs predicting she will vote with the Coalition, it now seems highly unlikely she will back the legislation.

'COMFORTABLE'

Ms Creighton pushed for changes to the bill, particularly a "pathway to care" rather than abortion for pregnant women who are suicidal.

She already asked for the clause allowing suicide as grounds for abortion to be removed, but this will not happen.

And she told RTE Radio she "would certainly feel much more comfortable" if a pathway to care was included.

The possibility of including this before tonight's vote has been ruled out by the Government.

She is "still holding out some bit of hope" and said there should be a free vote on issues of conscience like abortion.

And she insists she is not prepared to "suck up bad law and a breach of principle" over the legislation.

Irish Independent

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