TANAISTE Joan Burton is facing a major political crisis today as several Labour Party TDs consider supporting an opposition abortion bill.
It's emerged that Labour TDs have tabled a motion aimed at forcing the party leadership to sanction a free vote on a bill calling for abortion to be allowed in the cases of fatal foetal abnormalities.
The bill, proposed by Independent TD Clare Daly, has caused turmoil for the junior coalition partner.
Labour TD for Wicklow Anne Ferris has said she will support the bill and vote against the government - meaning she is almost certain to lose the party whip.
And Dublin Bay North Sean Kenny told Independent.ie this morning that he too is considering voting in favour of Ms Daly's bill.
"I feel very uneasy about the whip being applied. I will make my decision after I hear the legal advice from the Attorney General."
Communications Minister Alex White is due to give the briefing at a special meeting of the parliamentary party this afternoon.
The emergence of an internal party motion aimed at forcing the leadership to grant a free vote on the matter has created major difficulties for Ms Burton.
Clare TD Michael McNamara, who tabled the motion, said he expects it to be supported. However, senior party sources disagreed and said the party must remain united on the issue.
Ms Ferris, who appeared on RTE Television's Claire Byrne Live, where she made her views known, said she is supporting Ms Daly's bill because she has campaigned for many years on the issue.
"I am speaking for the women of Ireland. I want the bill to go to committee stage," she said.
"It is a matter of principle for me," she added saying she was willing to accept the consequences of her decision.
As a result of her decision to defy Ms Burton, Ms Ferris is set to become an Independent TD. She said Ms Burton had not contacted her ahead of her appearance on television.
Her defection also caught the party's hierarchy off guard.
Just a few hours earlier, the party's chairman Jack Wall said he was confident no Labour TD would 'go overboard'.
Ms Burton's spokesman had also said it was unlikely any TD would support the bill proposed by Ms Daly.
Responding to Ms Ferris's declaration, Ms Burton's spokesman said she had nothing to add until after the vote.
Speaking on Morning Ireland on Radio One, Clare Daly said if the TDs "had any conscience" they would vote in favour of the bill.
She said it would be a 'shameful' day if the bill did not go through - adding that only the courts had the right to determine the constitutionality of a bill.