Tuesday 18 December 2018

Four reasons Micheál Martin's speech on abortion is significant

Fianna Fail Ard Fheis
Fianna Fail Ard Fheis

Kevin Doyle Group Political Editor

Micheál Martin has made a u-turn on his views on the upcoming referendum of the Eighth Amendment putting him at odds with much of his party. Independent.ie's Political Editor Kevin Doyle looks at the significance of Mr Martin's contribution during Thursday's Dáil debate.

His personal stance has changed completely

Previously the Fianna Fáil leader said he was against repealing the Eighth Amendment.

In political circles he would be viewed as socially conservative. He acknowledged as much in his speech, stating: “Over the years I have been on the record as being against a significant change in our abortion laws.  I have done so from a belief that this was the most effective way of affirming the importance of the unborn.

“While I have supported different proposals to clarify the law and to address the threat to the life of the mother I have been broadly in favour of the law as enabled by the 8th Amendment.”

However, he added: “I believe we each have a duty to be willing to question our own views, to be open to different perspectives and to respond to new information.”

Only last night a majority of his TDs spoke against the repeal of the Eighth Amendment

As a two-day debate on the Eighth Amendment got underway on Wednesday a number of Fianna Fáil TDs attended a meeting which discussed the recommendations of an Oireacthas Committee report on the issue.

The majority spoke against the prospect of repealing the Eighth Amendment. Up to 20 members of the parliamentary party spoke at a three-hour meeting. Some were openly critical of statements made by the party’s health spokesman Billy Kelleher. Mr Martin has now joined Mr Kelleher in supporting the recommendations of the Oireachtas Committee on the Eighth Amendment.

The FF Ard Fheis voted to retain the Eight Amendment

At the party's Ard Fheis in October Fianna Fáil members overwhelmingly backed a motion urging opposition to changing the Eight Amendment.

Delegates at the party’s Ard Fheis voted by three to one to back a motion from Kildare North constituency urging the party “to oppose any attempt to diminish the constitutional rights of the unborn”.

FF TD's will retain a free vote on the issue, however but Mr Martin now stands accusing of ignoring the party grassroots. A brave move for any political leader. 

Leo Varadkar is stalling on his position

The Opposition leader has put his position on record before the Taoiseach who has been keeping his cards close to his chest in relation to his personal stance.  Leo Varadkar has not stated his views on whether he supports the repeal of the Eighth Amendment and he has chosen not to participate in this week's Dáil debate. The Fine Gael leader has said he will make his views known when he sees the wording of the referendum question "in black and white". He has come under pressure to make his position clear but has said he is taking a "cautious" approach. Ministerial sources told Independent.ie tonight they believe Mr Martin has now stolen the initiative from the Taoiseach.

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