MICHEAL Martin is facing his first crisis as Fianna Fail leader after some prominent TDs threatened to vote against the abortion legislation.
Mr Martin was forced to defer plans to hold a vote on deciding the party's position on the draft bill following a tense four-and-a-half-hour parliamentary party meeting last night.
The Herald has learned that the party is bitterly spilt over the inclusion of the suicide clause with some prominent figures demanding a free vote.
Finance spokesman Michael McGrath was one of the most vocal figures against supporting the legislation after it was confirmed that it includes the grounds for termination when a pregnant woman is suicidal.
The Cork TD was joined by party whip Sean Fearghail and prominent TDs Dara Calleary, John McGuiness, Brendan Smith and Eamon O Cuiv in expressing strong opposition.
Senator Diarmuid Wilson told the party leader that "under no circumstance" would he vote in favour of the legislation.
Pitted on the other side were Mr Martin, Senator Averil Power, and frontbenchers Niall Collins, Timmy Dooley, Willie O'Dea and Billy Kelleher.
It was agreed that Mr Kelleher, FF health spokesman, will "seek further clarity" on a number of issues at the upcoming Oireachtas Committee hearings.
However party sources have said the issue represented the "greatest challenge" for Mr Martin since he took over as leader.
"The meeting wasn't a screaming match, but certainly Micheal was taken aback by the strength of the opposition.
"He kicked the issue into touch because he knew we were split down the middle," the source said.
One senior TD predicted that there is "major trouble ahead" for the party and that at least seven TDs and senators would vote against the legislation.
He told the Herald: "I can't see how we will get through this. We are simply poles apart."
A number of sources at the meeting confirmed that Mr McGrath demanded a free vote.