Martin prevents FF TDs and senators tabling abortion law amendments
Leader says any amendments must go through health spokesman
Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin has moved to prevent his TDs and senators tabling amendments to the legislation allowing for unrestricted abortion up to 12 weeks.
To prevent those within his party frustrating the passage of abortion legislation through the Dáil and Seanad, Mr Martin said any amendments must go through Stephen Donnelly, the health spokesman.
Mr Martin made the comments at the first meeting of the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party since the referendum on the Eighth Amendment. Most party TDs and senators advocated a No vote, while Mr Martin and others argued for Yes.
While Fianna Fáil has freedom of conscience on the issue, some deputies indicated they would try to amend the legislation. A number have argued that abortion in cases of rape, incest and fatal foetal abnormalities should be allowed but say the 12 weeks proposal is a step too far.
By restricting such TDs and senators from tabling amendments, Mr Martin has effectively limited their options to voting for, against or abstaining on the legislation. The Fianna Fáil leader is to meet TDs and senators on the issue in the coming days,
One deputy characterised it as “using the whip without using the whip”. One senior TD, Offaly’s Barry Cowen, suggested at the meeting that TDs and senators should effectively offer Mr Martin a whip by coming in behind his position.
Mr Martin also told the meeting he expected every member of the party to vote in favour of the legislation and implement the will of the people.
He said it had been a very divisive few months within the parliamentary party and he was aware of the “one-upmanship” and “the undermining of one another”.
It had not gone unnoticed, the party leader said, adding he would meet each individual TD and senator to discuss the matters that had arisen during the referendum campaign.
The meeting ended abruptly as some members reacted to the suggestion by Mr Cowen that the whip be imposed. Sligo-Leitrim TD Marc MacSharry said there needed to be “shared ownership” of Fianna Fáil and not a diktat issued by a “small number of people”.
The legislation to give effect to the decision of the people is due to be published within a manner of weeks. Minister for Health Simon Harris will meet Attorney General Séamus Woulfe to identify what improvements need to made to the general scheme of the Bill that was published in March.
Mr Harris will also meet members of the Opposition today to seek their support in fast-tracking the legislation to regulate the termination of pregnancy. The Government expects it will be 2019 before abortion services can be provided in this country.
It is understood there is a willingness to examine whether the Information Act can be repealed to allow for doctors in Ireland to refer women to abortion clinics abroad and to consult with doctors in other jurisdictions about their medical status.
Meanwhile, Sinn Féin TD Peadar Tóibín has confirmed he is unlikely to support aspects of the legislation, which may breach party policy.
The party’s ardfheis in June will consider two motions on the issue of abortion, including the ard comhairle’s recommendation that the policy be in line with the Government proposals and a motion to allow for freedom of conscience.
Senior Sinn Féin figures have stated if the party updates its policy in line with the ard comhairle decision and Mr Tóibín votes against it he will be penalised.
As this is a second occurrence, the penalties will be harsher than the six-month suspension he received after voting against the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act in 2013, the source added.