Parties still divided internally and from each other on abortion issue

Wed, Nov 21, 2012, 00:00

ANALYSIS:Fine Gael is the most divided of the main parties on the issue of abortion

The issue of abortion has not only divided political parties over the past three decades but has also led to rancorous divisions within parties.

The only major party that included a specific commitment on abortion laws in its election manifesto was Labour. It called for legislation to be introduced to give effect to the Supreme Court judgment in the X case. An overwhelming majority of the party would subscribe to that view. A significant group would like further liberalisation. And yet a number of Labour parliamentarians hold strong anti-abortion views, among them Jack Wall and Senators John Kelly and John Whelan.

When Clare Daly and Joan Collins tabled a Private Members’ motion earlier this year calling for legislation to give statutory backing to the X case judgment, it discomfited some Labour TDs who essentially agreed with the motion. They were appeased by the “imminent” report of the expert group and a strong Dáil statement by Minister for Health James Reilly that the Government would not be the seventh since 1992 to fail to act.

Ciara Conway, Colm Keaveney and Aodhán Ó Ríordáin are among those who have argued for change. Before the Savita Halappanavar case emerged, a degree of impatience was beginning to creep in among that cohort.

Like other leaders, Eamon Gilmore must find a path (including timelines for action) that will be sufficient for the liberal wing. On the other hand, he will need it to be moderate enough not to wholly alienate those with more conservative views.

FF traditionally conservative

Fianna Fáil has traditionally been conservative on abortion and that is evident among the long-standing parliamentarians (Senator Jim Walsh and Éamon Ó Cuív) and among some younger members such as Robert Troy. The vast majority, including party leader Micheál Martin, will support legislation that will ensure that no woman’s life will be at risk.

There has been talk of a free vote within Fianna Fáil on any proposed changes to the abortion laws but a decision has not been made. It’s likely all other parties will impose a whip on any such vote.

That includes Sinn Féin. It made no reference to abortion in its manifesto and was accused by its opponents of opportunism when tabling a Dáil motion on abortion legislation this week. The refusal by Peadar Tóibín to put his name to the motion showed how difficult it is to find a united front on this issue.

FG most divided

Fine Gael is the party most divided on the issue. The more conservative Christian Democrat wing is dominant and many of its 2011 intake have strong anti-abortion views.

Earlier this year a group concerned the Minister for Health might “over-liberalise the laws”, as one put it, got James Reilly to commit to consulting the party on the matter. That said, many with anti-abortion views have had no hesitation saying they will support any change that will ensure women’s lives are not put at risk. They include Simon Harris, Regina Doherty and Paul Connaughton.

Only the smaller socialist parties, which advocate pro- choice views, have seen no dissent from the party line.

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