Was Dermot Ahern “got at” over Civil Partnership Bill?
You know the way you half-hear things on radio? It happens to me all the time.
I was walking on O’Connell Street last Friday morning, sort of listening to a debate on the Civil Partnership Bill on Pat Kenny’s radio show, when I thought I heard Independent Senator Ronan Mullen claim Justice Minister Dermot Ahern had been “got at” over the legislation.
I’ve listened back now and turns out that is what he said, in the context of a reference to his proposal to introduce a so-called conscience clause that might allow, for example, registrars to opt out of facilitating civil partnerships.
“This is the one thing that disappoints me about Dermot Ahern in particular. He was widely regarded as of course being a conservative on this whole issue back in 1993 and to some degree he was got at precisely because of that, he had to be then seen to implement the Programme for Government,” Mr Mullen said.
That’s some claim.
I interviewed Ahern recently, and asked him about his personal beliefs in the context of his political work. He said the Civil Partnership Bill, which he has sponsored, had provoked “a bit of a campaign” against him. He also revealed he’d been denounced “by a 28-year-old curate off the pulpit in my own constituency in Drogheda for the Civil Partnership Bill. Somebody half my age.” (He’s 55.)
He said: “I do leave my religion behind me and I genuinely mean that. While we all have our beliefs and our own religions, I don’t think it should cloud our judgment.” He said an element in Fianna Fáil would probably never be reconciled to the terms of the proposed legislation. (If you’d like to read the full interview it’s here: http://bit.ly/bffKnN)
Three Fianna Fail Senators resigned the party whip yesterday because of their objections to elements of the Bill (My report on that is here: http://bit.ly/dp2ETe, while my colleague Jimmy Walsh’s Seanad report is here: http://bit.ly/9TB1v5). Ahern is continuing to face down their amendments in the Seanad as I write.
What does this mean for Fianna Fail? Well, while Jim Walsh, Labhras Ó Murchú and John Hanafin (Minister Mary’s brother) say they will support the Government on other matters, their move brings to 10 the number of Fianna Fail TDs now outside the parliamentary party.
Three other Fianna Fail Senators are without the party whip: Ivor Callely (over expenses claims), Larry Butler (expenses) and Denis O’Donovan (dog breeding legislation). Four Fianna Fail TDs without the party whip are Mattie McGrath (stag hunting legislation), Dr Jim McDaid (cervical cancer vaccination), and Dr Jimmy Devins and Eamon Scanlon (both cancer services in their Sligo-North Leitrim constituency).
And let’s not forget “number 11″, Joe Behan, who left Fianna Fáil and became an Independent TD over 2008 budget cuts.
It doesn’t say much for party discipline on the last day of the Dail session.
UPDATE: In the Seanad, Ahern has just said he wasn’t “got at” in relation to this legislation (Thursday 2.45pm).