Archbishop contacted Kenny during abortion Bill controversy

Michael Neary said he hoped Taoiseach was ‘free to exercise’ his own conscience

An archbishop contacted the Taoiseach at the height of the controversy over the Government's abortion legislation, saying he hoped Enda Kenny would be "free to exercise your own conscience".

Freedom of Information (FoI) records show Archbishop of Tuam Michael Neary said he had responsibility for the pastoral care of Catholics in Mr Kenny's Mayo constituency.

“None of us should entrust the decisions of our conscience to another on issues like this which are, literally, matters of life and death,” Dr Neary wrote in a letter dated July 5th, 2013.

The contentious Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill 2013 was entering the final stages of debate in the Dáil at the time.

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The following week, Renua leader Lucinda Creighton, then minister of state for European affairs, voted against the Government legislation, forfeiting both her ministerial office and Fine Gael parliamentary party membership.

Under FoI, The Irish Times sought recent correspondence between the Department of the Taoiseach and the standing committee of the Irish Catholic Bishops' Conference, the Catholic Communications Office and members of the Church hierarchy.

Conscience

Documents released by the department show Dr Neary sent Mr Kenny a briefing note outlining his concerns about the legislation, which he said would be made public the following week.

“I fully respect your autonomy as Taoiseach on this matter and your responsibility to vote, after careful consideration, in accordance with your informed conscience,” he said.

“In conscience I wish, as Archbishop with responsibility for the pastoral care of Catholics in your constituency, to express a number of concerns to you about the Bill, including its constitutional viability.”

Dr Neary said he would be happy to discuss his concerns with Mr Kenny in person, should the Taoiseach wish to do so.

“In the meantime, be assured of my prayers and good wishes at all times,” he said.

Lost party whip

“I hope you will be free to exercise your own conscience on this fundamental moral issue, in accordance with the principles of a free and democratic society and your express right as a citizen under Article 44.2.3 of the Constitution.”

An acknowledgement of the letter, and an assurance that it would be brought to Mr Kenny’s attention, was sent to Dr Neary from the Taoiseach’s private office on July 10th, 2013.

Former Fine Gael TDs Billy Timmins, Terence Flanagan, now both Renua deputies, and Peter Mathews, now an Independent, also lost the party whip because of their opposition to the legislation in the days before Dr Neary's letter was sent.

Brian Walsh was re-admitted to Fine Gael some 10 months after voting against the legislation.

At the time, the TDs’ rejection of the legislation was seen as marking the biggest challenge to the Taoiseach’s authority since he took power in 2011.

Mary Minihan

Mary Minihan

Mary Minihan is Acting Features Editor of The Irish Times