Fianna Fáil members split over Martin’s stance on abortion

Those opposing Martin’s position say vast majority of parliamentary party disagreed with leader

Micheál Martin: One TD said: “But this is a conscience issue, and we have to respect that Micheál Martin changed his view”

Micheál Martin: One TD said: “But this is a conscience issue, and we have to respect that Micheál Martin changed his view”

 

Rank-and-file Fianna Fáil members are split after party leader Micheál Martin announced his support for removing the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution and allowing terminations up to 12 weeks into a pregnancy.

Some TDs claimed that a small number of party supporters had called into constituency offices to say that Mr Martin should resign as leader, although this view was not shared by anyone in the parliamentary party.

Those opposing Mr Martin’s new position on the amendment, which gives equal right to life to the mother and the unborn, said the vast majority of the parliamentary party disagreed with the leader.

Senior party spokespeople who supported Mr Martin’s stance, however, believed it to be a huge move forwards that would help change the public perception of the party as conservative on social issues.

One frontbencher who disagrees with Mr Martin’s position on abortion said: “Micheál has never put us on a bad steer. No Fianna Fáil leader – except Jack Lynch in 1971 – has had to face the challenges Micheál has about the survival of the party.”

The TD added that Mr Martin always “challenges the party” and had done so again, but “has always been proven correct”.

There are far more people in the party in support of repealing the Eighth Amendment than people would know just because they have been quiet about it

It was added that those rank-and-file party members objecting to Mr Martin were still in “the 1980s”, and “still do not get the difficult position the party is in”.

Another frontbench TD with opposing views to Mr Martin said members were contacting constituency offices praising the move.

Change of heart

Some on the backbenches took a different view, however. Declan Breathnach, a TD for Louth, said he was “strongly pro-life” and does not agree with Mr Martin.

He also expressed disappointment that the parliamentary party had not been told about the leader’s change of heart first, but he said he nevertheless understood his approach.

“The parliamentary party leaks like a sieve. I don’t agree with him. I have a strong view and I am pro-life,” Mr Breathnach said.

“I am getting a lot of texts and emails saying the party leader has to resign, the party leader can’t lead anymore. But this is a conscience issue, and we have to respect that Micheál Martin changed his view.”

Mr Martin was entitled to do so, he said, adding that “80 per cent of the parliamentary party” have a different view to the leader.

Mr Breathnach said he had spent time teaching children with disabilities, and that those children had been “given the opportunity to live”.

James Lawless, a TD for Kildare North, said he also disagreed with the leader but said people had a free vote on the issue. “I may not share the view but we have a freedom of conscience on this, and that works both ways.”

Dublin Fingal Senator Lorraine Clifford Lee said she had been “fielding calls all day from members who are very happy”.

Free vote

“We’ve had a free vote since 2013 and that extends to every member of the parliamentary party. And Micheál has obviously studied the findings of the committee and made up his mind according to his own moral compass.

“There are far more people in the party in support of repealing the Eighth Amendment than people would know just because they have been quiet about it.”

Cavan-Monaghan TD Niamh Smyth said she was “pro-life”, but said she respected Mr Martin’s decision.

“I admire Micheál for giving us the opportunity to think about, debate it, read the report and come to our own conclusions. He has taken his own position very clearly. I respect that. I am of a different view. I think he, and everyone else in the party, respects that.”