Kenny facing revolt on abortion strategy
QWill FG backbenchers cause trouble for Enda Kenny on the abortion issue?
A group of Fine Gael TDs and Senators remains staunchly opposed to the Government strategy to give legal clarity on abortion in cases where the mother’s life is at risk.
This week they complained they were being “press-ganged” into moving too quickly on the contentious issue after the Cabinet set out a timeframe for implementing whichever option proposed by the expert group on abortion it decides to adopt.
The announcement that Government would select its preferred option before the end of December and implement that choice early in the new year was greeted with fury at party meetings.
Many complained the timeline was rushed. The issue of suicide ideation was also a key difficulty, with certain parliamentarians convinced it will lead to what they call “abortion on demand”.
Among the most vocal complainants were John-Paul Phelan, Tom Hayes, Billy Timmins, John O’Mahony, Terence Flanagan, James Bannon and Peter Mathews.
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 on Tuesday night by Minister for Health James Reilly and Minister for Justice Alan Shatter.
Ms Creighton toned down her criticism the following evening at a meeting of the parliamentary party attended by Taoiseach Enda Kenny, but went on to publicly disagree with Mr Shatter on Thursday morning.
Mr Kenny offered soothing words behind closed doors on Wednesday night. He told those opposed to the Government’s strategy that he was personally “more conservative” than many, if not most, of them.
He insisted “no one would be press-ganged” and that Fine Gael remained a “pro-life” party.
Mr Timmins had pressed for a referendum on the suicide issue and, somewhat worryingly for the party leadership, Minister for Transport Leo Varadkar questioned the rush to rule out a national poll. But Mr Kenny firmly faced down any such suggestion.
As the week continued, Mr Kenny insisted in public that Ireland would not have a “liberal” abortion regime “without any terms and conditions applied”.
The party leadership had been taken aback when they heard about the revolt at Tuesday night’s meeting and began to consider the previously unthinkable possibility that some backbenchers might “go overboard” on the issue.
The calculation was that, with 76 TDs, Fine Gael could live with a few deputies voting against the Government and losing the whip, but there were concerns that discontent was growing. The comments of Ms Creighton and Mr Varadkar were noted as significant.
However, Mr Kenny’s admirers point out that he is regarded as “the greatest consensus-builder in the Dáil” and insist the troublesome backbenchers are bound to fall into line eventually.
On top of that, the budget has recently reasserted itself as the key issue on the minds of parliamentarians, despite the sensitive nature of the abortion dispute.