Wednesday 19 December 2018

'I won't engage in any debate against my own party' - Martin says abortion stance not a 'party political issue'

Michael Martin. Photo: Justin Farrelly
Michael Martin. Photo: Justin Farrelly
Catherine Devine

Catherine Devine

Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin said that his views on abortion are not "a party political issue" and denied that there was conflict within his party.

The former health minister announced last night that he will support the Oireachtas Commitee's recommendations for unrestricted access to abortion for 12 weeks.

Mr Martin's u-turn on his views on the upcoming referendum of the Eighth Amendment has put him at odds with much of his party.

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

Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, Fianna Fáil leader Michael Martin said that he is not in conflict with his party members.

"This isn't an issue about polling and how people are going to vote. I don't believe it is a party political issue. Since 2013, the parliamentary party has been very clear that this is a matter of individual conscience. I speak as an individual here. I'm conscious that I am the leader of the party, but this is not a party view."

Micheál Martin speaking in the Dail today
Micheál Martin speaking in the Dail today

He continued to say that some party members thanked him for allowing them to vote in line with their conscience.

"In advance of the Ard Fheis, I made it clear that it was an issue of conscience for members of the party."

He disagreed that his position was in "conflict" with the majority of his party.

"I think the word conflict is wrong. That doesn't describe the atmosphere at the moment. Since I made my statement, I have been taken back by the responses of many women in the party who have been silent up until now. Others have disagreed and others will have different views and perspectives and I respect that.

"I had to look at this sincerely and deeply and I had to come to my own conclusions looking at the evidence."

Mr Martin told Morning Ireland that the debate around repealing the Eighth Amendment has so far been "calm".

"If you go back to 2013 when we introduced the vote of conscience, I would have been in the minority of the party in voting for the protection of human pregnancy and life act. That was understood at the time and that was accepted at the time. The idea of the individual free vote has taken route. The absolute judgemental approaches is not as evident today but people do have their views that are different to mine and that is acknowledged within the parliamentary party.

"We've reached a level of discussion where TDs can have their say and vote in accordance with their conscience.

"People are entitled to articulate their veiw. I don't think this is party political issue. I have no plans to be engaging in any public debate with members of my own party. It's not that kind of campaign. The Irish people will make up their own mind and decide for themselves."

Speaking yesterday at the Dáil, Mr Martins said that he changed his view on abortion after listening to all the evidence.

The Cork South Central TD said he came to his conclusion after reading evidence from Irish clinicians and doctors who say the Eighth Amendment creates difficulty for obstetricians, and has a negative impact on women’s healthcare “including death.”

"We all remember the sense of national shock at the death of Savita Halappanavar six years ago. 

"She was a 31 year old, healthy medical professional who experienced difficulties during a pregnancy.

In the inquiry into her death the current law "stood indicted" for "leading to a situation where her care was not as responsive or urgent as it should have been."

The Fianna Fail leader also said that Eighth Amendment does not prevent Irish women from having abortion.

“Nobody can dispute the fact that thousands of Irish women have an abortion every year”, he told the Dail.

He said these operations caused “deep trauma” and were “hidden” and could therefore have a significant impact on health and well-being on women.

The Cork South Central TD admitted that up until now he has been on record as being against abortion but his position has since evolved.

“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” , he told the Dail.

But "if the facts become clearer, if we come to understand properly the impact of a policy on others, then we must be willing to act accordingly”, he said.

Mr Martin said the reality of the situation is that “the Eighth Amendment does not mean that Ireland is a country without abortion.”

“Retaining the Eighth Amendment will not make Ireland a country without abortion.”

“Nothing we say or do here could make Ireland a country without abortion.”

The Fianna Fail leader said “without constitutional change" it is not possible to address the trauma faced by families who receive a fatal fetal abnormality diagnosis.

“If a family is told of a fatal abnormality during a pregnancy the law, as it stands and as it is required to be under the Eighth amendment, says that they can do nothing” he said.

“Under threat of a criminal sentence they must carry the pregnancy to its term irrespective of the potentially devastating impact it will have”, he said.

“I believe we should make provision for cases of fatal foetal abnormality and serious threats to the health of the mother.”

Online Editors

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