Burton told colleagues FG will not accept further abortion measures

Tánaiste says party made clear there would be no further legislation on matter

Anne Ferris TD said she had to support Clare Daly’s Bill to allow for abortion in cases of fatal foetal abnormality. The bill was defeated in the Dail by 104 votes to 20.

 

Tánaiste Joan Burton told Labour TDs and Senators there could be no further abortion measures introduced during the lifetime of this Government because of an agreement with Fine Gael.

Ms Burton addressed a meeting of the parliamentary Labour party ahead of the Dáil vote on a bill tabled by Independent TD Clare Daly calling for abortion in the case of fatal foetal abnormality.

Some of those present said Ms Burton looked under pressure at a party meeting for the first time since assuming the leadership last summer.

Only one party TD – Wicklow Deputy Anne Ferris – defied the party whip and voted against the Government. She has been expelled from the parliamentary Labour party.

Ms Ferris indicated afterwards she wants to run for Labour at the next election and said she would re-apply to join the parliamentary party in the coming months.

When asked if she would welcome Ms Ferris back, Ms Burton said it was up to the Wicklow deputy to reapply. Ms Ferris said she will support the Government in all other Dáil votes and said she had changed her mind on the fatal foetal abnormality issue since rejecting a similar amendment in 2013.

“Perhaps I did make a mistake and I have changed my mind,” she said. “It is an issue that is close to my heart and I could not but support Clare Daly’s Bill. It was only to move it on to the next stage and keep it alive.”

Anger

Dominic Hannigan

Labour whip Emmet Stagg said Mr Hannigan was attending to business in his role as chairman of the European Affairs Committee.

Others who had agreed absences with party included Minster of State Kevin Humphreys, who was taking a Bill through the Seanad, Ruairí Quinn, who is abroad, and Dublin Mid West’s Robert Dowds, who was in Stormont.

Ms Burton told her TDs that Fine Gael had made it abundantly clear that the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill was the only abortion measure to be introduced during the Coalition’s term.

She also said Labour had been at the forefront of social change over the past number of decades. The best way for Labour to progress its proposals was to finalise its policy on repealing the Eighth Amendment and ensuring it is implemented by the party in Government, with Fine Gael.

Minister for Communications Alex White briefed the parliamentary party on advice given by the Attorney General that Ms Daly’s Bill was unconstitutional while Alan Kelly, the deputy leader, emphasised the importance of party unity.

Emotional

Clare TD Michael McNamara made what was described as a “legalistic” argument and pushed his request for a free vote, although this was defeated. Mr McNamara has submitted his own Bill on fatal foetal abnormalities, which he believes is constitutional, to the Ceann Comhairle. He said he hoped it would be brought before the Dáil in the coming months. Others who spoke included Brendan Howlin and Pat Rabbitte.

Speaking last night, Ms Burton said she was “very disappointed” to lose Ms Ferris from the parliamentary party.