Critical voices heard at FG party meeting
Minister of State for European Affairs Lucinda Creighton was the most senior critic of the Fine Gael leadership to speak out when party TDs and Senators were briefed on the expert group on abortion’s report.
A number of backbenchers complained that they were being “press-ganged” into moving too quickly on the issue after the Cabinet set out a timeframe for implementing whichever option proposed by the expert group it decides to implement.
Minister for Health James Reilly and Minister for Justice Alan Shatter addressed about 50 members of the parliamentary party. Backbenchers John O’Mahony, Terence Flanagan, Billy Timmins and James Bannon were among at least 12 members who spoke critically at the meeting.
Ms Creighton insisted Fine Gael did not have a mandate to legislate for abortion during her “impassioned” contribution, according to a number of those present.
Other speakers complained that their votes were being taken for granted by the leadership. The Cabinet decision to opt for a preferred option before the end of December and implement that choice early in the new year was greeted with anger.
Many complained that the timeline was too tight.
The issue of suicide ideation was a key difficulty for many, as predicted by Minister for Transport Leo Varadkar on Monday night. Many speakers expressed a fear that legislating for the X case could lead to “abortion on demand”.
There was no objection to legislating for cases in which the woman’s life was threatened for physical reasons, however.
A number of those present also complained about the Cabinet decision that the three days of hearings at the Oireachtas health committee would take place in early January, after the Government decision on the option has been taken.
One of those who spoke said Fine Gael backbenchers were being treated like “rubber stamps”.
There was also widespread anger that the report had been leaked to media outlets but only given to backbenchers following its formal publication yesterday. Party chairman Charlie Flanagan was among the complainants.
There were a number of references to a “letter of comfort” distributed by the now Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan during the general election campaign when he was director of elections. The letter said Fine Gael was opposed to the legalisation of abortion.
The meeting was chaired by Meath East TD Regina Doherty, who declined to comment on what happened at the briefing. “This is the start of our deliberations as a parliamentary party. We have to respect everyone’s views and hopefully at the end come to a fair consensus,” she said afterwards.
Reference was made to Minister of State Brian Hayes’s call in the summer for a free vote on the issue, along with complaints that Taoiseach Enda Kenny had “closed off” that option. The Opposition parties have indicated they will not allow a free vote.
A number of backbenchers known to have concerns about the issue were present but did not speak. The issue is on the Fine Gael parliamentary party agenda for tomorrow.