Friday 22 February 2019

Shatter shows just how out of touch he is with backbenchers

Fionnan Sheahan

Fionnan Sheahan

PRESIDENT Michael D Higgins has sensibly convened a meeting of the Council of State to advise him on the abortion legislation. Given the highly contentious nature of the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill 2013, it was a predictable decision.

If he had merely signed it into law without seeking the expert counsel, he would doubtless have been hit with accusations of following a liberal agenda.

Whatever his decision, the President has just six more days to weigh it up.

There will be ample debate over the coming days over whether he should refer it to the Supreme Court.

On the one hand, doing so would end the arguments over the bill's constitutionality. On the flip side, it may be regarded as unnecessary and it prevents further challenge, which may come as the bill's usage and interpretation evolves.

President Higgins hasn't even begun his consideration of the bill when suggestions of further liberalisation of the abortion regime are already flowing.

Just don't hold your breath on anything happening any time soon.

Justice Minister Alan Shatter yesterday reiterated his support for a referendum to allow abortion in cases of rape. He is also in favour of it being allowed in cases of foetal abnormalities.

The Fine Gael minister joins Labour in wanting a future government to address the issue.

Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore promised last weekend to hold a referendum if Labour gets back into power to allow abortion in cases of fatal foetal abnormality or when pregnancy results from rape or incest.

Pro-Life campaigners always warned that the Protection of Life in Pregnancy Bill would be just a first step and would open the door to more grounds for abortion.

The prospects of their fears being borne out immediately are non-existent.

Although a senior minister, Mr Shatter's stance should not be taken as representative of the view within Fine Gael.

Some TDs believed his talk of a referendum, when the party has just gone through such a tortuous experience in getting this bill across the line, shows just how out of touch he is with party backbenchers – many of whom found it extremely difficult to even vote for the legislation.

You won't find Enda Kenny expressing similar views about future referendums.

"The Government will not be taking another step in this area," a government source said.

There is no major appetite, particularly in Fine Gael, for a referendum on any aspect of abortion for the foreseeable future.

And it's doubtful that attitude will have changed come the run-in to the next general election for a pledge to be included in the party manifesto.

Of course, the abortion issue will be firmly on the agenda again and society's views will evolve. But for now, the substantive issue is most likely parked for another decade.

Irish Independent

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