FF front bench to meet amid signs of consensus among parties on need to act


Political reactionThe Fianna Fáil front bench is to discuss its position tomorrow morning on the Sinn Féin Private Members’ Motion calling for legislation to give effect to the 1992 Supreme Court judgment on abortion in the X case.

There are said to be different views at the top of the party and it is considered likely that an amendment to the Sinn Féin motion will be tabled.

Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald called at the weekend for all-party support for her party’s motion, adding: “It is time to act now.”

Sinn Féin Meath West TD Peadar Tóibín has refused to sign the motion but has not said he will vote against it in Wednesday night’s division. He said yesterday: “I respect the Sinn Féin party position, but in reflecting my own views I did not sign the motion. I don’t want to make any further comment until the debate unfolds.”

Debate on the motion begins at 7.30pm tomorrow with a vote taken on Wednesday.

Fine Gael Minister of State for Finance Brian Hayes said: “It is important that there is legal clarity and certainty around medical terminations. We owe it to the women in this country to sort this issue out once and for all. I’m very impressed with the calm and deliberate way the Minister for Health has handled this issue.”

Other Fine Gael TDs, who were asked last week by party leader and Taoiseach Enda Kenny to remain calm about the issue, were reluctant to go on the record. Privately, however, some party sources put the number of possible defectors on its back benches as “no more than a handful”.

Some estimates put the number as low as three or four. “I do not want to take from the sincerity of those who have expressed reservations about legislation, but there might be an element of using the issue to make life uncomfortable for Enda Kenny in the past on the part of a few,” said one TD.

Another said: “There has been a change of attitude in favour of legislation on the part of some waverers. The tragic case of Savita Halappanavar has crystallised people’s thinking.”

Labour is supporting legislation, with TDs backing Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore’s call for “legal clarity” on the issue.

Labour Minister of State for Housing Jan O’Sullivan told RTÉ’s The Week in Politics television programme that she understood the expert group report “has been seen by the Minister for Health and I think also by the Taoiseach and Tánaiste . . . I understand that we will get sight of it next week in advance of the Cabinet meeting on Tuesday [week] and we will then make a decision on behalf of Government.”

She added: “It is a matter for Fine Gael what they decide within their own whip system but personally I don’t think a free vote is a good idea.”

Fianna Fáil is awaiting publication of the report before taking a position. Privately, there is a growing consensus that if acceptable legislation is introduced by the Government, the party will come on side.

“We will act responsibly, but we need to study the report before making a decision,” said a Fianna Fáil source.

Catherine Murphy, Chief Whip of the Technical Group, said she would support the motion but expected the response of her colleagues in the group would be “mixed”, with more left-wing members backing the motion while others would not do so.

She added: “It’s not a Private Members’ Motion that we actually require, it’s legislation. I’m disappointed the Minister for Health is talking about it being next year before action is taken.It does look like being some considerable distance down the road. I don’t want it pushed along so that the heat is taken out of the situation: the same set of circumstances could apply to some other woman in the future.”

There are differing views among TDs on whether there should be a free vote if legislation is introduced. Some favour it, arguing the abortion issue leads to strong feelings on all sides. Others disagree, saying any legislation should require an emphatic Yes or No after a 20-year delay.

While some Fine Gael TDs favour a free vote, one of the party’s new TDs is opposed to it. “It could lead to an appalling vista whereby the other parties showed unity and coherence and the major party of Government could not get its act together on the issue.”