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Tension grows as Gilmore to miss Savita debate

CABINET tensions are at an all time high over how the Government should react to the death of Savita Halappanavar.

Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore is set to miss a Cabinet meeting where the issue will be top of the agenda, the Herald can reveal.

Despite being the most vocal member of the coalition to say that "legal clarity" must be brought to the abortion issue, the Labour leader will be in Brussels next Tuesday.

He is scheduled to attend a meeting of the General Affairs Council of the EU in a move that is already causing tensions within his own party and Fine Gael. "It's ridiculous. Eamon Gilmore is expressing more public outrage than anybody else, but at the same time won't be around when the Cabinet sits down to see what it can do about the case," said a source.

They noted that it is "extremely unusual" for a Foreign Affairs Minister to attend the GAC as it is a role usually assigned to a country's Minister for European Affairs.

The Herald understands that Lucinda Creighton represented Ireland until recent months when Mr Gilmore stipulated that he takeover in advance of Ireland's presidency of the EU.

"Other ministers made it clear to him that there is really no need for the deputy leader of the Government to attend these meeting, so it will be interesting to see what he does now," one Cabinet source said.


They added that abortion debate was "already splitting Labour and Fine Gael down the middle like no other issue". "If the Labour leader misses the Cabinet meeting, it will significantly weaken their hand in the debate," the source noted.

A spokesman for Mr Gilmore said the GAC was in the Tanaiste's diary but, at the time of writing, he could not say whether or not it was being reviewed.

In the Dail yesterday, Mr Gilmore vowed that the coalition would not be the seventh Government to ignore the abortion issue.

"I think, as legislators, we have a responsibility to respond, to react and to deal with it," he said.

Pointing to his own pro-choice credentials, the Tanaiste said he is on the record for over 25 years on how it should be dealt with.

"I don't think as a country we should allow a situation arise where women's lives are at risk," he said.

However, Fine Gael has a much more conservative view and will be slow to bring forward any significant legislative changes, sources say.

Reports reveal Mr Gilmore is to push for full laws to regulate abortion despite Taoiseach Enda Kenny's reluctance to act.

Mr Kenny is said to be "cautious enough" about introducing legislation as he knows how divisive it can be. Nevertheless, the views of some Fine Gael TDs have shifted in light of Savita's death.

Party chairman Charlie Flanagan, a TD for Laois-Offaly, said politicians must ensure such a tragedy would never happen again.

He said the anger of the people is "palpable", not only at home but abroad as well.

Mr Flanagan said too many reports on the issue of abortion have been "drawn out and inconclusive" in the past. Meath East TD Regina Doherty said her views are evolving, adding that she is anti-abortion and pro-life but "pro my life and the lives of my children".

She said the medical profession deserve clarity on the issue of medical intervention when a woman's life is at risk.

The Indian Ambassador to Ireland Debashish Chakravarti has said he hopes steps will be taken by the Government to ensure that nobody else dies in circumstances similar to that of Ms Halappanavar.

The HSE was expected to announce details today of its planned inquiry into Savita's death.