Revealed: Enda Kenny forced into U-turn on abortion by key allies
Interventions by Fitzgerald and Donohoe left Taoiseach with few options, say party sources
Taoiseach Enda Kenny was "bounced" into his shock move to pave the way for an abortion referendum by two of his most loyal ministers, the Irish Independent has learned.
Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald and Transport Minister Paschal Donohoe both made pleas for the party to outline a clear policy on abortion.
Their stance forced Mr Kenny to address the divisive issue of the Eighth Amendment, which gives equal status to the rights of the mother and the unborn.
Fine Gael was left stunned following Mr Kenny's pledge to refer the issue of abortion to a 'Citizens Convention' and to allow his TDs and senators to vote with their conscience on any move to repeal the Eighth.
While Mr Kenny's decision will limit the potential for abortion to be a major issue in the upcoming election, his move also paves the way for the first abortion referendum since 2002.
The Irish Independent can reveal the Taoiseach's move was made just hours after a serious bust-up involving his deputy leader James Reilly.
Dr Reilly's demand for a referendum early in the next Dáil term infuriated Mr Kenny, Finance Minister Michael Noonan and senior Fine Gael advisers, who felt his actions "undermined" the position of the Taoiseach.
Prior to this week's Cabinet meeting, Mr Kenny delivered a serious rebuke to Dr Reilly, telling him that he had created problems for the party.
Despite the severe reprimand, Dr Reilly stood by his decision to call for a referendum, telling Mr Kenny: "I said what I said. I believe it. And I'll say it again if asked."
It has now emerged that the row was defused by both Ms Fitzgerald and Mr Donohoe insisting the party had a responsibility to address the abortion issue in their manifesto.
"They did not back James Reilly, because they felt he was rushing towards a referendum without first doing the ground work. But they told the Taoiseach that Fine Gael needed to come up with a roadmap for replacing the Eighth Amendment.
"When you have two of the most trusted and loyal members of Cabinet calling for action, what was Kenny supposed to do? He knew he had to act," said a senior Fine Gael source.
Health Minister Leo Varadkar also backed the two ministers - but a separate source who was briefed on the meeting said Mr Donohoe's intervention in particular influenced Mr Kenny.
Fine Gael officials are now working on the wording of their new policy on abortion.
But Dr Reilly's intervention has left him damaged within some sections of the party.
"Reilly's standing has been badly damaged in the Taoiseach's eyes. This is not what you expect from your deputy leader. After the election the Taoiseach may well think about that," one minister said.
However, supporters of Dr Reilly (right) say any decision to sack him as deputy leader would be viewed as vindictive by Mr Kenny.
Meanwhile, the decision to give TDs and senators a free vote on the issue has been met with a mixed response.
Some deputies have pointed out that if Mr Kenny had taken a similar decision in relation to the Protection of Life During Pregnancy legislation in 2013, the party would not have lost its five TDs and two senators.
One of the politicians who voted against the party, Senator Paul Bradford, said it is "unfortunate" Mr Kenny "took so long to learn that a new young country requires a different style of political leadership."
Fine Gael TD for Waterford John Deasy said that in hindsight, the decision to impose the whip of his former colleagues was a mistake.
"There is a feeling in the parliamentary party that Lucinda (Creighton), Billy (Timmins) and others were treated badly. There should have been a free vote.
"We all understood why there wasn't a free vote to a certain extent. The attitude now looking back was it was wrong and a mistake. It could have been dealt with better," Mr Deasy told the Irish Independent.
"The irony of all this is that Enda Kenny may have to deal with them after the election," he added - referring to the prospect of coalition negotiations.