Taoiseach calls for 'calm' discussion as he pledges swift action on abortion
Taoiseach Enda Kenny has moved to defuse public controversy and tensions between the Coalition parties over abortion by promising swift action and calling for a “calm, rational and sensitive discussion”.
However, there was adverse reaction within his own party, with a number of Fine Gael backbenchers complaining that they were being “press-ganged” into moving too rapidly to deal with the matter.
The report of the expert group set up after the 2010 European Court of Human Rights judgment against Ireland on abortion was discussed at Cabinet yesterday morning and subsequently published online.
The report contained four options for the Government, but leaned heavily in favour of a flexible combination of legislation and regulations.
A Dáil debate on the report starts on Tuesday, and Mr Kenny said he would “provide as much time as people desire”.
The Taoiseach said that prior to the Dáil going into recess for Christmas “the Government will make its view known, arising from those discussions and our own views, regarding which option it decides to pursue”.
From January 8th-10th and before the Dáil resumes the Joint Committee on Health and Children will hold public hearings on whatever option is chosen.
Mr Kenny said “the legislative options will be followed through by the Government”.
This appeared to rule out non-statutory guidelines, one of the options listed in the report.
However, when questioned further in the Dáil by Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin, he said: “We have not yet decided on an option.” Responding to suggestions that legislation might not be ready until the second half of 2013, he said: “This is just not true.”
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 report.
Backbenchers John O’Mahony, Terence Flanagan, Billy Timmins and James Bannon were among 12 members who spoke critically. In an “impassioned” contribution Ms Creighton insistedthat Fine Gael did not have a mandate to legislate for abortion.
Other speakers complained that their votes were being taken for granted by the leadership. Many complained that the timeline was too tight.
Earlier, Dr Reilly told reporters that, after the health committee hearings, “we will seek to implement through legislation the decision of the Government as quickly as possible”.
However, he went on to say that his reference to “legislation” was a “slip of the tongue” and that he did not want to pre-empt the Dáil debate and the Cabinet decision.
Fianna Fáil health spokesman Billy Kelleher said he hoped a “middle-ground consensus” could be reached on the report.
Sinn Féin health spokesman Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin said the report made clear that primary legislation was required and regulations alone would not suffice.
Irish Council for Civil Liberties director Mark Kelly said: “The Government must now inform the Oireachtas and the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe of its precise timeline to enact the necessary reforms”.
The Society for the Protection of Unborn Children said: “This report is undemocratic. It fails to suggest as an option consulting the Irish people through a referendum.”