Fianna Fáil fails to adopt agreed position on abortion legislation

Party holds marathon meeting to discuss Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin reportedly argued that the Constitutional article 40.3.3 would ensure ’the floodgates would not open’. Photograph: Alan Betson/Irish Times

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin reportedly argued that the Constitutional article 40.3.3 would ensure ’the floodgates would not open’. Photograph: Alan Betson/Irish Times

Thu, May 2, 2013, 19:42

Fianna Fáil has not adopted an agreed position on the Government’s draft abortion legislation after a four-and-a-half hour meeting of the parliamentary party in Leinster House this afternoon.

Despite signals from the party leadership that the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill should be supported during its passage through the Oireachtas, a large group of Senators and TDs expressed concern about the suicide intent clause.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheal Martin argued that the Constitutional article 40.3.3 would ensure “the floodgates would not open”, according to a number of those present.

Health spokesman Billy Kelleher, who was briefed on the proposed legislation by Minister for Health James Reilly, took questions from party colleagues on the planned law.

They gave him a list of queries to put to the Oireachtas health committee on their behalf when it proceed with fresh hearings on the Bill. In a statement released after the meeting, Mr Kelleher said the discussions had been “detailed, respectful and constructive”.

He confirmed there was “ a diversity of sincerely held opinions” within the party. Mr Kelleher also said he had been asked by colleagues to seek further clarity on some issues of concern from independent experts at the upcoming Oireachtas Committee hearings. “Following these hearings, the parliamentary party will meet again to consider our position,” he said.

Yesterday the party hinted that its leadership may take a different stance to its membership on the proposed legislation.

This morning the Oireachtas Health Committee meting in private to set the parameters for its hearings on the Bill.

The committee last January held hearings on the issue and produced a 1,000-page report used in the drafting of the new legislation.

Speaking before the meeting chairman, Fine Gael TD Jerry Buttimer said the committee was likely to hear from many of the same experts who appeared before it in January, including obstetricians, gynaecologists, psychiatrists and the masters of the maternity hospitals.

However, he said the hearings would be more than just a routine exercise.

“This Government has changed the process whereby the heads of the Bill are now discussed at committee stage, so there is a real opportunity for members to engage with and have an influence over the final legislation. And it is different from January because now we have something concrete to scrutinise.”

A date for the hearings has not yet been set and Mr Buttimer said he had an open mind on whether the committee would hear from women who had been affected by abortion. “There have been submissions in relation to that, but it will be for the committee to decide together who will be invited in.”