Martin gives Fianna Fáil free vote on abortion

Only half of Fianna Fáil TDs are likely to vote with their leader in support of the Government’s legislation

Micheál Martin: “I don’t see my role as forcing a line down people’s throats and I don’t look at it in that light. It is an issue of conscience.” Photograph: Alan Betson

Micheál Martin: “I don’t see my role as forcing a line down people’s throats and I don’t look at it in that light. It is an issue of conscience.” Photograph: Alan Betson

 

Only half of Fianna Fáil TDs are likely to vote with their leader Micheál Martin in support of the Government’s abortion legislation after his failure to bring the parliamentary party with him on the question.

Legislation
Mr Martin has granted a free vote on the legislation, the first such move by any Fianna Fáil leader in modern times.

The decision comes as Taoiseach Enda Kenny faces down demands for a free vote within Fine Gael, where a number of TDs and Senators have serious reservations about the legislation. It reflects Mr Martin’s failure to achieve consensus within Fianna Fáil. Party health spokesman Billy Kelleher has also supported the Bill. In a party reduced to 17 Dáil seats, TDs believe Mr Martin can count on support for the Bill from only another five or six deputies. Those likely to support it include Timmy Dooley, Niall Collins, Barry Cowen and Michael Moynihan. Sean Fleming is a probable supporter and Robert Troy is a possible supporter, say TDs.

Prominent among those against it are finance spokesman Michael McGrath, a constituency colleague of Mr Martin, and John McGuinness. Michael Kitt and Willie O’Dea declined last night to state their intention, as did Mr Moynihan.

Although the move avoids a public split in Fianna Fáil, some TDs believe it could pose problems down the line for Mr Martin on other contentious topics.

“I don’t see my role as forcing a line down people’s throats and I don’t look at it in that light. It is an issue of conscience,” Mr Martin said last night after meeting his parliamentary party.

Mr Dooley and Mr Cowen called for the party to vote as one for the legislation while Senator Jim Walsh called for a united vote against it. Fianna Fáil will establish protocols for free votes on other questions of conscience. Mr Martin said these would be reserved for issues linked to abortion and euthanasia and would not cover gay marriage.

Suicide risk
In Washington , Minister of State for Europe Lucinda Creighton said she still hopes abortion on grounds of suicide risk will be excluded.“There is a long way to go yet in terms of the legislative process.”

She noted Minister for Health James Reilly has resolved to accept amendments, but other Government sources say change on suicide is unlikely. The Oireachtas health committee presented the report on its hearings on the legislation to Dr Reilly yesterday.

Meanwhile, a senior Vatican figure, Msgr Jacques Suaudeau, told the Irish Catholic that Oireachtas members including Mr Kenny, who describe themselves as Catholic, should resign rather than support the Bill.