'Shocked' pro-life Fianna Fáil TDs plan strategy to get 'point across'
Fianna Fáil TDs opposed to the stance taken by their party leader Micheál Martin on abortion are meeting this week to discuss how best to get their "point across" to the public.
Carlow-Kilkenny TD Bobby Aylward, who is leading the pro-life charge within the party, said he had fielded calls from around the country congratulating him for his public rebuke of his leader's position.
"I got calls from party members in Donegal, Galway, Dublin to Cork thanking me for taking a stand against it," he said.
"I'm calling to get people together but it's not about getting rid of Micheál Martin," Mr Aylward told the Irish Independent.
He said he had spoken to around eight TDs and senators who confirmed they would attend a "get together" on the matter, understood to be taking place at Leinster House tomorrow evening.
"When you have Billy Kelleher and others on the front bench all pro-choice and then our leader comes out the same, then it's time for us to make it known that we've not gone liberal," he said. "Micheál Martin is entitled to his opinion but he's a leader of a party where 70pc of the members are pro-life and there are others who support pro-life."
Several Fianna Fáil TDs spoke out against their leader's about-turn on abortion last Friday.
Kildare-North TD Frank O'Rourke said he would attend the meeting organised by Mr Aylward.
Waterford TD Mary Butler also confirmed she would attend. She said she was "saddened and shocked" when she heard Mr Martin's speech in the Dáil last week.
She said "at least" two-thirds of the parliamentary party were of the same conviction as her.
"There's no doubt about it that the leader has clout, and I've been listening to party members who feel strongly about us retaining our pro-life agenda.
"There were many from Ógra Fianna Fáil, as well as older members, calling me in support of my decision [to remain pro-life]," she said.
Ms Butler suggested that the State provides the morning-after pill for free as a solution to the unregulated use of abortion tablets by Irish women.
Meanwhile, Cork South-West TD Margaret Murphy O'Mahony and Cork East TD Kevin O'Keeffe are also expected to attend Mr Aylward's meeting tomorrow.
Senior TDs such as Willie O'Dea and Dara Calleary said they fundamentally disagree with their leader's opinion, but respect his right to hold it.
Sligo-Leitrim TD Eamon Scanlon said there was "not a hope" he would vote for legislation for abortion even if the referendum passes.
Fellow Cork South-Central TD Michael McGrath, who topped the poll and came out in front of Mr Martin in the last election, has not declared his position yet.
He voted against the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill. He did not respond to attempts to contact him.
Fianna Fáil has had a free "vote of conscience" on the matter of abortion since the introduction of the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill in 2013. The bill provided legislation in line with the constitutional boundaries provided by the Eighth Amendment, but many in Fianna Fáil voted against it.
Mr Martin said the Oireachtas Committee "helped clarify many issues" on abortion, as did listening to "the diverse contributions of women" on the matter.
He said that over the years he has been on the record as being against a significant change in abortion law because of a belief that this was the most effective way of affirming the importance of the unborn. But Mr Martin said it was "indisputable" that thousands of Irish women have abortions every year and therefore the Eighth Amendment "does not mean that Ireland is a country without abortion".
Instead, the amendment has given rise to "significant difficulties for doctors practising in Ireland and has caused grave harm to women, including death," he said.
He added that it forces women to endure "cruel" and "lonely" journeys to Britain.