Thursday 20 June 2019

Fatal foetal abnormality bill is heavily defeated - despite Cabinet split

Independent TD Mick Wallace. Photo: Tom Burke
Independent TD Mick Wallace. Photo: Tom Burke
John Downing

John Downing

Three Independent government ministers voted in favour of a draft law which would have allowed abortion in cases of fatal foetal abnormality.

The measure, put forward by Wexford Independent TD Mick Wallace, was defeated in the Dáil by 95 votes to 45; 17 TDs were either absent or abstained.

The bulk of the votes against the law, which the Attorney General had deemed unconstitutional, came from Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil.

Mr Wallace said he had not believed that his private member's bill would receive enough support to pass in the Dáil but he wanted to see it go before the Supreme Court.

He said: "We're not saying we're 100pc right. But let the courts decide.

"It will bring forward, it will add urgency to the fact that there are at least four or five women every week in Ireland having to travel out of the country to have a fatal foetal abnormality dealt with. They are suffering something terrible."

The three Independent Alliance ministers - Shane Ross, John Halligan and Finian McGrath - voted against the Government.

Their decision was a matter of considerable tension in the Cabinet and represents a reverse for Enda Kenny, who had to relent on his insistence on a united government approach to the bill.

Minister for Children Katherine Zappone, also an Independent TD, voted with Fine Gael on the issue, as did another Independent minister, Denis Naughten.

Fianna Fáil allowed an open vote on the bill as it was a "matter of conscience" and five of its TDs - Lisa Chambers, Niall Collins, Timmy Dooley, Fiona O'Loughlin and Robert Troy - voted in favour of the measure.

Sinn Féin supported the bill but TD Peadar Tóibín was one of three deputies absent for the vote.

In 2013, Mr Tóibín lost the party whip when he opposed the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill, which Sinn Féin supported.

Fine Gael argued that the Wallace bill had been deemed unconstitutional in advice provided to the Cabinet by Attorney General Máire Whelan. The advice was not made public.

Government officials also said the State's chief medical officer had advised that the legislation was unworkable.

But Mr Ross, Mr McGrath and Mr Halligan had argued that they had supported a similar bill by Mr Wallace's colleague Clare Daly and they had to be consistent on the issue, both in opposition and in government.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny reluctantly agreed last Tuesday to concede to the Independent ministers' demand for a free vote. But it is believed that he also insisted that this was a "once-off" concession and could not happen on a regular basis.

Earlier this week, Mr Kenny argued that he was fully committed to a Citizens' Assembly to examine the entire issue of abortion, including the 1983 Eighth Amendment.

The Citizens' Assembly will start its work in October.

Irish Independent

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