Dáil divided as SF fails with motion on abortion
Leinster House remains a house divided in the aftermath of the Government’s inevitable trouncing of the Sinn Féin motion on abortion, but TDs who identified themselves as being in the “middle ground” spoke up last night.
Outside the Dáil chamber the recently formed Oireachtas Human Dignity Group involving Independent Senator Ronan Mullen and his Fianna Fáil colleague Jim Walsh was organising a briefing on abortion from experts with a “pro-life” ethos.
At the other end of the ideological spectrum, “pro-choice” advocate Labour Senator Ivana Bacik was inviting colleagues to a talk by prominent atheists on the separation of church and State.
Last night’s measured Dáil debate featured few viewpoints that could be described as extreme. TDs from all parties who might have been reluctant to say anything in public about the issue of abortion in the past made their contributions. Some shared personal stories, while others admitted they had argued with party colleagues over the issue.
The two-day debate on the Supreme Court ruling in the X case that concluded late last night followed the death of Savita Halappanavar .
Fine Gael TD Liam Twomey, a doctor, was one of the deputies who observed that the issue had engaged many people who did not identify with either of the traditional “sides” in the abortion debate.
“I think one of the greatest things about what has happened this week is how the middle ground in this country is participating in this debate, and it’s not being left to people who are just being labelled ‘pro-life’ or ‘pro-choice’,” Dr Twomey said. Labour deputy Robert Dowds said he regarded himself as “pro-life” and had “no great desire to see widespread abortion in Ireland”. The death of Ms Halappanavar had forced politicians “to confront an issue that we have dodged for much too long”, he said.
“The reality is that if Britain wasn’t on our doorstep we would have had to introduce abortion legislation years ago to avoid women dying in backstreet abortions.” While most Irish people retained “a huge respect for the right to life”, an honest and open discussion was required so legislators could “come up with legislation we can live with”.
The Sinn Féin motion was denounced as “ill thought-out, ill-considered and ill-timed” by Fine Gael TD Jerry Buttimer, chairman of the Oireachtas Health Committee. Mr Buttimer’s party colleague Derek Keating taunted Sinn Féin for having “censored one of its own members from speaking”.
This was a reference to Meath East TD Peadar Tóibín’s failure to sign his own party’s motion because of his “very strong pro-life views”.
Mr Tóibín came into the chamber to vote against the Government amendment.
There had been some concern about the voting intentions of Fine Gael TD James Bannon, but he voted with the Government saying there was “nothing contentious” in the amendment. Taoiseach Enda Kenny yesterday told Mr Bannon he had been selected as one of Fine Gael’s representatives on the Constitutional Convention.
Sinn Féin spokesman Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin admitted not all Sinn Féin members concur with party policy on the issue.