‘Brave’ or ‘a betrayal’? Fianna Fáil members split on Martin’s abortion stance

‘Micheál has given the proverbial two fingers to the majority of my fellow members’

Fianna Fáil Micheál Martin made a surprise announcement on Thursday that he would vote in favour of repealing the Eighth Amendment and to allow abortion on request until near the end of the first trimester.

The Irish Times invited Fianna Fáil supporters to share their views on Martin’s new stance. The responses we received, a selection of which are published here, show just how divided the reaction is to their leader’s personal decision to support the proposal to legalise abortion on request.

Councillor Kate Feeney (Blackrock LEA, Dún Laoghaire Rathdown County Council)

As a member of Fianna Fáil who has been vocal in the past about the need to repeal the Eighth Amendment, I was proud of Micheál Martin’s Dáil contribution. As a young woman, I was heartened to see the leader of one of the largest parties in the State take such a reasoned and well researched approach to the issue. He has clearly undertaken a massive personal journey to get to this point, one which many citizens will also undertake in the coming months. This was a brave move, which deserves respect. His speech will be a turning point in this debate; it speaks to the middle ground who have up to this point been silent.

More than anything, his speech addressed the overwhelming issue that many will face of balancing personal beliefs and the law which we expect other people to follow. He has spoken of the need to trust women and doctors. He acknowledges that the decision to have an abortion is never an easy one, and is one that we should trust women to make decisions based on their own circumstances.


Kris Shekleton

As a member of Fianna Fáil I am extremely disappointed and angered by Micheál Martin’s statement. When the leader of a political party speaks in the Dáil on such an important issue they should always have the interests of their party membership and supporters at heart. The vast majority of Fianna Fáil members voted overwhelmingly against repealing the Eighth Amendment and the views of that majority should be represented by the leader, but Micheál has given the proverbial two fingers to me and the majority of my fellow members by saying he will personally vote to repeal.

I can no longer express confidence in his leadership. I believe Micheál Martin has just sold out Fianna Fáil’s chance to be the voice of the silent majority, an opportunity lost along with the betrayal of the membership. He has dealt a huge blow to the Fianna Fáil party, its members and the people we represent.

Ian Woods

Micheál Martin’s speech was well-reasoned, brave and a solid demonstration of where the middle ground in this debate lies, exhibiting real political leadership. While many in the party won’t be happy, there are a growing number who are coming to the opinion that the uncompromising nature of the Eighth Amendment is blocking our country from taking an empathetic and understanding approach to an issue that deserves consideration and nuance.

For example, Ógra Fianna Fáil - of which I am the former campaigns and policy officer - currently stands in favour of legalising abortion in cases of fatal foetal abnormalities, a position that the deliberations of the committee on the Eighth have shown is impossible to reconcile with the constitution in its current form. However, even within the youth wing, this issue divides the party, and members at all levels have the right to express and campaign for their own views.

Fianna Fáil has always been a wide tent and the vast majority of members will be able to reconcile their honestly and earnest held differences on this issue with Micheál’s strong leadership of the party in opposing and mitigating the government’s regressive and elitist economic policies.

Paschal Mac Giolla Chainnigh

Micheál’s views wouldn’t be very far off my own. There are clearly very different views among Fianna Fáil TDs and among members generally, but I hope we can all see that whatever our views are, that they are sincere and based on what we think is right. Every TD and every member should be free to take their own stance, and that includes the leader. I wouldn’t like us to be like America where abortion is used to divide the electorate every election.

Cathy Curran

I am delighted with Micheál Martin’s support of repealing the Eighth Amendment. His stance is about choice, which is exactly what the proposed referendum represents; the individual choice and freedom of every woman over her own body and not the choice of a government. Ireland needs to stop living in a fantasy world and realise Irish women are choosing to have abortions outside the State every minute of every day and will continue to do so with our without the Government’s approval.

Rita Steele

I was stunned and shocked by Micheál Martin's new stance on abortion. I was almost brought to tears when I heard the party I have supported for almost 30 years had a leader who supports the introduction of abortion on demand into Ireland. Micheál Martin has for 20 years described himself as pro-life, and all of a sudden he supports abortion on demand; what changed? This referendum will be tight; virtually all my friends have declared their opposition to both the Citizen's Assembly report and the Oireachtas abortion committee report. Vote No.

Shane Coughlan

As a younger member of Fianna Fáil, I welcome Micheál Martin’s speech. The party has agreed on a vote of conscience regarding the Eighth Amendment, for all members, whatever their own view is. Michéal is expressing his view, while it may not tally with some in Fianna Fáil, the party, much like the country, has moved in since 1983.

Much like the marriage referendum, many may keep quiet internally but speak at the ballot box. Traditionally the louder voices within Fianna Fáil have been on the pro-life side, it would be misguided interpret this as a clear majority in today’s Fianna Fáil. The membership is more nuanced than portrayed. The party is a broad church in terms of views both socially and economically, we are also a party that allows discussion, a difference of opinion, and reflection. Micheál Martin has proved this and led by example.

Peter Carvill

Mr Martin is the leader of Fíanna Fáil, not just a backbencher. Accordingly, what he says is inevitably seen as expressing the position of his party. He, after all, is the public face of the party and would aspire to be Taoiseach after the next general election. The people who voted for Fíanna Fáil in the last election did not do so with a view to bringing about a radically liberal abortion regime in Ireland. There were other parties assertively pushing that agenda. Those who voted so decisively on this issue at the October Ard Fhéis are the very people who Mr Martin would be expecting to be his foot-soldiers in the next election. Having abused his position to call for abortion on demand in Ireland, contrary to the democratically expressed position of the party he leads, it is difficult to see how Mr Martin can continue to retain the confidence of his party to lead them.

Tara Stokes

As a Fianna Fáil member and a pro-choice supporter I am glad he approached such a personal issue with an open mind. It shows his compassion as a person, and how in politics he is willing to learn and study before taking a stance. I am more horrified by the comments made by other members of the party who are threatening to quit and are throwing their toys out of the pram.

David Carroll

As a member of Fianna Fáil for over 30 years, I am incredibly disappointed by Micheál Martin’s speech confirming that he intends to support unrestricted abortion on demand of unborn children in their first trimester of life. The excuse that this is necessary in order to facilitate abortion in cases of rape conveniently ignores the fact that 48 other countries have been able to legislate for such cases without having to introduce abortion on demand.

The further excuse that it is necessary because of the advent of abortion pills on the internet is completely illogical, given that such a premise would require the legalisation of every single illicit substance which might be available to buy online, no matter how damaging, dangerous or inappropriate it might be.

One by one, politicians in this country are stepping up to use the above two excuses as a miserable attempt to cover-up what is, in fact, a desperate effort to win over what is perceived as the youth vote, an attempt to be modern and liberal and relevant. It is absolutely heart-wrenching for me to see a fundamental principle like the right to life of unborn children being abandoned in a vote-grabbing exercise.

Audrey Eager

As the person who spoke on the ‘pro-choice’ motion at the Ard Fheis on behalf of the London Cumann, I am very proud of Micheál Martin today. There is more than a minority of one within Fianna Fáil that is pro-choice. Micheál spoke on his own behalf but he also represented us but those who may need the space to reflect to change their minds. Brave leadership that will bring the party forward.

Aidan Lonergan

This is a typical example of the lack of conviction among politicians. Despite the supposed “new evidence” that has come to light regarding abortion it still doesn’t change the act that abortion ends the life of an innocent baby. Nowhere in his speech has he acknowledged this and as usual no one in the media has directly challenged him on it. Imagine if Mary Lou McDonald changed her mind and said she had realised babies were being killed. The media would be all over her asking her about the right of a woman to choose.

Paddy Ryan

I have been an active member Fianna Fáil for over 50 years and I have always been loyal to our leader including Micheál Martin, but I did have concerns, wondering if he had drive and commitment needed to lead the country. After watching his speech I no longer have concerns. I saw man with courage and commitment, who I believe will lead the party into Government after the next election. He believes Irish women should be treated with the respect and dignity they are entitled to.

John Carvill

I have voted for Fianna Fáil for more than 30 years. I am not in the least surprised by Micheál Martin's move. I do not believe it was brave, but cynically manipulative. It should have been clear to everyone that Martin was going to do this, when he appointed Billy Kelleher and Lisa Chambers to the Oireachtas Committee. He is not just a Fianna Fáil TD expressing his opinion. He is the party leader, the face of the party. He should do the honourable thing and resign, failing which, he should face a motion of no confidence at the parliamentary party.

Rob Power

I was proud to see Micheál Martin support repeal of the Eighth in his speech, which was a strong rebuttal of the outdated laws after considered reflection. At the same time I’m disappointed to see the reactive negative comments from some in the party. If some party members are angry, is it because he disagrees with them, or because he spoke out at all (and would they have respected him if he had an opinion and stayed quiet)?

Briege Mac Oscar

I’m a Fianna Fáil member and my own view on the Eighth Amendment has changed drastically in recent years since I joined the party. I think Micheál Martin has shown real leadership in placing this issue above party politics. While the party members are mostly in favour of retaining the Eighth, there is a large minority who believe that the status quo cannot continue and I was proud to see the leader outlining the main and most pressing arguments in favour of removing the amendment. The law is plainly failing the women of Ireland, and the good work of the Oireachtas committee cannot be allowed to go to waste because political leaders are too afraid of the consequences.

Eoin Neylon

As someone who’s served at every level of the party, as someone who is not publicly elected can, I welcome Martin’s statement. Having spent five years on the party’s Ard Chomahirle, and two years on that body’s executive office board as president of the youth wing Ógra, it is heartening to hear the party leader give voice, in his personal capacity, to the sizable minority of members who would be pro-choice leaning. In fact, it’s my experience that the youth wing members are a large majority so and overall, some 35 per cent the membership would be such inclined.

Fianna Fáil is a broad church party with many views. What Míchéal has done is considered the expert evidence and taken a principled stand for what he believes is right. His bravery in choosing an action many would regard as politically tough must be commended. I’ve seen much change in Fianna Fáil since I joined a decade and a half ago and I’m personally glad to see that progressive change continue under Martin’s leadership. There will be some who disagree with his position and it’s understandable why they chose to vote the way they do. I don’t chastise them for that in the same way that others should not chastise Martin for making the decision he has.

Michael Ward

As a 19-year-old Fianna Fáil member, I am saddened by Mr Martin’s views, throwing the moral compass of the party down the drain. I think his decision is a huge gamble and could possibly split the party, as majority of TDs and members are anti-abortion. Unfortunately Mr Martin has turned his back on the grassroots of the party and De Valera, in order to gain a few votes. I appreciate and welcome that our party has a free vote on the matter, but the fact that our leader holds a viewpoint drastically different to the members and TDs is disappointing and worrying.

Padraig Somers

I was very surprised at his reversal of the motion passed at the Ard Fheis. There again nothing surprises me about his antics. There are issues regarding abortion where I feel it should be allowed, such as in the case of rape, incest, or fatal foetal abnormality, but giving a cart blanche thumbs up to it for up to 12 weeks means it will become the contraceptive pill of the future. I do not think it was brave, as he always ran with the hare and hunted with the hounds. It will divide the party and yes, it has changed my views on voting Fianna Fáil in the future.

Stíofán O’Callaghan

Micheál has taken a very courageous stand. He has allowed Fianna Fáil members a free vote in the Oireachtas on the matter and is therefore free to have his own view on it. It would have been the easy option for him to take the view which is likely to be taken by most of the parliamentary party but real leadership involves doing what one thinks is best for the common good. I am one of those who has also changed my stance on the issue after reading the final Oireachtas Joint Committee report.

Chris Walsh

I am Fianna Fáil local area rep for the Bray Municipal District. I believe Micheál Martin showed outstanding leadership in his speech. To come from a pro-life background, to listen to the evidence and change his stance, in the interest of the women of country, was both compassionate and understanding to needs of the Irish women. The Eighth Amendment does not stop women having abortions, it stops them from having them in a safe and supportive environment at home. I commend Micheál for the work he put in, the understanding of people’s differing opinions and a call for a fair and honest debate of the issue.