Kenny promises 'free vote' for FG on abortion issue
Fine Gael politicians are to be given a free vote on any future referendum on abortion following a dramatic policy change by Taoiseach Enda Kenny.
Mr Kenny has assured his parliamentary party that in the event of a referendum to repeal the Eighth Amendment, TDs and senators can vote by their conscience.
This means that any Fine Gael politician can vote for or against future legislation to liberalise the country's abortion laws - without being ejected from the party.
The move by Mr Kenny has taken party members by surprise and is seen as a clear attempt to prevent the abortion debate from dominating the upcoming General Election.
Five TDs and three senators, including then minister Lucinda Creighton, were thrown out of Fine Gael in 2013 for voting against the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill.
The abortion debate was reignited after the party's deputy leader James Reilly told the 'Sunday Independent' that a referendum to repeal the Eighth Amendment should take place in the early part of the term of the next government.
The Irish Independent can reveal that Dr Reilly was given a severe dressing down by Mr Kenny and Finance Minister Michael Noonan prior to the Cabinet meeting yesterday.
However, Dr Reilly was backed up by a number of colleagues including Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald.
The events of recent days have put pressure on the Taoiseach to address the abortion issue.
Addressing the parliamentary party last night, Mr Kenny said the Fine Gael manifesto will not commit to a repeal on the Eighth Amendment.
However, it will pledge to refer the matter of the Eighth Amendment - which gives equal status to the rights of the mother and the unborn - to a so-called 'Citizens Convention'.
As the parliamentary party meeting was continuing, Meath East TD Regina Doherty raised the issue of abortion in her capacity as head of an internal party committee to examine the issue.
Deputies John O'Mahony, Bernard Durkan and Marcella Corcorcan Kennedy all spoke up at the meeting, urging the importance for the party to remain on message and to focus on the economy.
Dr Reilly then stood up and defended his position that in cases of fatal foetal abnormalities, women should be allowed to access termination services in Ireland.
He described it as fundamentally wrong that women were forced to go through their pregnancies without a chance of survival.
He also said that it was wrong that women had to leave their families and friends and travel abroad to have abortions.
Dr Reilly said he welcomed the commitment from the Taoiseach to allow a free vote and said there were "no differences" between the pair.