Sunday 18 February 2018

Martin risks split within FF by backing repeal of Eighth

Micheál Martin Photo: Kyran O'Brien
Micheál Martin Photo: Kyran O'Brien

Shona Murray

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin has said he will vote in favour of removing the Eighth Amendment in a remarkable U-turn that could split his party.

Mr Martin made a significant contribution on the second day of the Dáil debate as he reversed his strongly held position on outlawing abortion in most cases.

"Following a long period of reflection and assessment of evidence before the Oireachtas Committee, I believe that we should remove the Eighth Amendment from Bunreacht na hÉireann and I will vote accordingly," he said.

Mr Martin's Dáil intervention means the Taoiseach is the only party leader not to have made their position on the Eighth Amendment clear.

The Cork South-Central TD's dramatic change of view will also put him at odds with many of his party's TDs. At a party meeting on Wednesday, a majority of deputies had spoken against the prospect of repealing the Eighth Amendment.

Mr Martin also gave cautious backing to the recommendations by the Oireachtas Committee to allow unrestricted access to abortion for up to 12 weeks. He said he saw "the logic and the basic approach proposed by the Committee" but "wants to see proposals about how it might operate".

He pointed to it being indisputable that "thousands of Irishwomen have an abortion every year".

Mr Martin also pointed to the cases of women who had taken successful legal cases against Ireland through international courts.

Shona Murray: Micheál seeks to fill void of leadership in debate

He said their experiences "exposed the cruel inflexibility and unintended consequences of the Eighth Amendment".

Mr Martin also said testimony of doctors who appeared at the Oireachtas Committee had a "deep impact" on him.

Clinicians described how the Eighth Amendment had given rise to "significant difficulties for doctors practising in Ireland and caused grave harm to women, including death".

Mr Martin said he took his decision so women who get a diagnosis of fatal foetal abnormality can terminate their pregnancies at home.

The State and its "shameful" record on subjugating women was also on trial yesterday.

The second day of the debate was laden with emotional and personal accounts of how individual house members had come to their decision.

Several deputies referred to their memories of the death of schoolgirl Ann Lovett in 1984 and the case of cancer sufferer Sheila Hodgers in 1983.

They also pointed to the presence of government-aided institutions like mother and baby homes and Magdalene laundries.

Fine Gael TD Kate O'Connell led the charge, saying: "Irish women were quite literally enslaved in an act of Church and State collusion that could be honestly characterised as nothing other than sexual apartheid."

Independent TD Clare Daly paid tribute to Health Minister Simon Harris for his speech to the chamber on Wednesday and said it was "very clear" things have changed in Ireland.

Independent TD for Kerry South Danny Healy-Rae also gave his personal reasons for keeping the Eighth Amendment. He spoke of his own large family and while they were not very wealthy they had an abundance of "love" that got them through.

He added: "[If a woman] cannot see their own way to keeping the child, there are so many parents and young people in this country who would give anything, even the last euro in their pockets, to have a child of their own."

Fine Gael TD Peter Fitzpatrick, who was one of the few pro-life members of the Oireachtas Committee that discussed the Eighth Amendment, said he was unhappy with how the committee conducted its business.

Irish Independent

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