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Kenny faces fight to hold party together in abortion battle

TAOISEACH Enda Kenny has warned his Cabinet that they must speak with one voice on abortion or face expulsion. Tensions are simmering within the Government today over how far they should go in legislating for abortion.

Fine Gael backbenchers are concerned about the possibility that the threat of suicide would be considered a legitimate reason for a termination.

Sources told the Herald that as many as two dozen TDs will have serious issues with legislation that would link abortion and suicide -- even though the 1992 X Case ruled that the danger of suicide would justify abortion as a threat to life of the expectant mother.

"The suicide question is difficult. Many TDs wonder whether it would open a loophole for 'abortion on demand' but at the same time they realise that there are genuine cases," said a Fine Gael source.

On his way into today's Cabinet meeting, the Taoiseach said: "This is a matter that requires careful, calm and considered and sympathetic consideration. I'd like to think that everybody in the Oireachtas would have the opportunity to have their say."

Asked if the Government parties were divided over the issue, the Taoiseach said: "Not at all. I see people having some amusement with their headlines, this is a matter not for any individual party, it's a matter for the people of the country and I want to get the maximum consensus on what is the best and correct thing to do here taking into account that there are genuinely very strong views on many sides of this argument."

Mr Kenny has firmly ruled out any possibility of a free vote that would allow TDs to express individual opinions rather than follow the party line.

The Taoiseach said: "You're dealing with a very different generation of politicians, our country's moved to a different space. The vast majority of people understand what needs to be done here, but they do not want to move to a position where you have abortion on demand in the country."

Meanwhile, Health Minister Dr James Reilly presented the report by an expert group on abortion, which indicates new laws will need to be passed.

"Let us have the debate, let us study the report and then let's move in a reasonable fashion to a resolution," he said.