FF front-benchers to snub meeting of TDs who oppose abortion
Fianna Fáil heavy hitters will stay away from a special meeting of parliamentary party members opposed to repealing the Eighth Amendment.
However, the majority of the party, including the front bench, disagrees with leader Micheál Martin's view that unrestricted access to abortion up to 12 weeks should be permitted.
Around six to 10 TDs and senators will convene this evening at Leinster House to strategise how best to oppose the abortion referendum.
Carlow-Kilkenny TD Bobby Aylward, who is organising tonight's meeting, emailed every Oireachtas member including Mr Martin, inviting them to attend the "get-together".
He said it is "important" to restate Fianna Fáil's pro-life policy to the public.
"We have to let people know that we haven't gone on a liberal crusade," he told the Irish Independent.
However, some of the party's big names are expected to decline the invitation amid fears that a damaging split is emerging.
Sources said it was "very unlikely" that pro-life TDs like Michael McGrath, Dara Calleary, Thomas Byrne or Willie O'Dea would attend.
A number of first-time TDs, including Mary Butler, Eamon Scanlon and Niamh Smyth are expected to take part.
Mr Aylward said the majority of the parliamentary party opposes change "and we should make that known".
"My phone hasn't stopped since last week with people calling to tell me I'm doing the right thing" by retaining the party ethos, he said.
"There are many people that are disappointed with our leader and Billy Kelleher and the likes," he added.
"We have to tell people that we haven't lost our soul."
Finance spokesperson Mr McGrath, who is tipped as a potential successor to Mr Martin, confirmed he will vote against a repeal of the Eighth Amendment.
He said that the recommendations of the Oireachtas Committee on the Eighth Amendment were a "step too far" for him and "most people".
"Where we are going with this question is not where the majority of Irish people sit on this issue," he said on RTÉ's 'Today with Sean O'Rourke' radio show.
He has always been pro-life and voted against the Protection of Life During Pregnancy bill in 2013.
Mr McGrath is a popular member of the front bench and is seen as reliable and impressive in his brief.
But he said it was "nonsense" to suggest his public denouncement of proposals on abortion were a bid to usurp Mr Martin's leadership and place him as favourite among party members.
Mr Martin announced that he had changed his long-standing position on abortion after listening to evidence presented by lawyers, doctors and "women" at Oireachtas Committee hearings.
Another TD who preferred not to be named said they hoped Mr Martin hadn't come out in favour of abortion so he could "win the Dublin vote".
"And maybe he will get the Dublin vote because of this, but if that's what made him change his mind then that's wrong," they added.