Wednesday 21 March 2018

Reilly's handling of abortion issue worries backbenchers

Fionnan Sheahan Political Editor

FINE Gael backbenchers are concerned about Health Minister Dr James Reilly handling the sensitive abortion issue in the wake of his latest stream of controversies.

After the Labour Party stood by him through the resignation of junior minister Roisin Shortall, Fine Gael TDs fear he "owes" the junior coalition partners.

Dr Reilly will give an update on the Government's plan to deal with abortion at the end of the month. But the minister is still awaiting the report of an expert group set up to recommend a response to a European court ruling on abortion.

And there are fresh concerns on the Fine Gael backbenches that Dr Reilly may be "soft" towards Labour views in the area.

Some Fine Gael TDs believe the minister is only still in office because Labour didn't call for his resignation last week.

As a result, backbenchers fear Dr Reilly knows he owes his continued status in office to Labour and has to deliver for his coalition partners.

"The line of thought about Dr Reilly is that the Labour leadership has put so much into him that he may be soft on this question (of abortion)," a party TD said.

Dr Reilly caused consternation within Fine Gael by committing the Government to act upon the X case.


Labour has promised to bring in laws to deal with the 1992 X case, where the Supreme Court decision appeared to determine, in line with the Constitution, that a woman has a right to access an abortion in Ireland if there is a 'real and substantial risk' to her life.

The Health Minister was forced to concede he would consult with the Fine Gael and Labour parliamentary parties before coming to any decision.

Dr Reilly gave Fine Gael TDs and senators a further update in the past fortnight, saying he was still waiting for the expert group to report back.

The report is now a month late and it is believed a member is ill, while another member has a sick family member.

There have also been suggestions there is not unanimity on the recommendations.

"James's credibility is shot on every issue, from primary care centres to abortion. Once the public makes up their mind on a minister, it is very hard to shake it," one TD said. "A significant group in Fine Gael wouldn't want to have any movement at all on abortion."

Dr Reilly is scheduled to report back to a European body by the end of this month on the Government's response to a European Court of Human Rights ruling on the abortion regime in this country.

However, diplomatic sources said this action plan didn't have to set out any policy decisions, merely give an update.

The group is chaired by High Court judge Mr Justice Sean Ryan, who previously chaired the landmark Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse, formerly the Laffoy Commission.

Irish Independent

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