FG divisions over abortion deeper than previously thought

Many rural representatives in particular have problems with 12-week recommendation

Joe McHugh Minister of State for the Irish Language, is among those who said they could not support the proposal for unrestricted access to abortion up to 12 weeks. Photograph: Alan Betson

Joe McHugh Minister of State for the Irish Language, is among those who said they could not support the proposal for unrestricted access to abortion up to 12 weeks. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

The divisions within the Fine Gael parliamentary party over the repeal of the Eighth Amendment runs somewhat deeper than previously thought.

In particular, the Oireachtas Committee’s recommendation that there should be unrestricted access to abortion up to 12 weeks into a pregnancy has caused great difficulty for a significant number of the party’s TDs and senators.

The Irish Times yesterday made telephone contact with all the parliamentary party in an effort to ascertain individual views on repeal, and, separately, on the 12-week proposal. Until now, 35 TDs and Senators have been undeclared.

Most who spoke did so on the record but a significant minority spoke privately, mostly because they have not arrived at a conclusive decision on the matter.

A number of previously undeclared Fine Gael members made public their views. Three Ministers of State – Ciarán Cannon, Brendan Griffin and Joe McHugh – and two other parliamentarians – Westmeath TD Peter Burke and Roscommon Senator Maura Hopkins – all said they could not support the proposal for unrestricted access to abortion up to 12 weeks.

“I am completely opposed to 12 weeks on human rights grounds. I have not made my mind up on any other aspects yet. I fully support the holding of the referendum,” said Mr Cannon.

Mr Griffin said: “I feel the Eighth Amendment needs to be be repealed in cases where there is rape, incest and fatal foetal abnormality.

“However, I do not agree with 12 weeks unrestricted access. I saw the scan of my first child at 11 weeks and it was a well-formed baby with facial features and I could make out a body.”

‘Step too far’

Mr Burke said: “I would be against the 12 week proposal because I feel it is a step too far.”

That reservation has also been strongly expressed by Tánaiste Simon Coveney, but he has yet to give his definitive view.

There are eight Fine Gael TDs and Senators who are implacably opposed to any repeal of the Eighth Amendment, but there are at least 10 more within the parliamentary party who believe there should be repeal but are opposed, or have grave reservations, about the 12-week proposal.

There are about 20 who publicly support repeal and the 12-week term with about 15 TDs who have not stated any view publicly to date.

Among them are five Ministers or Ministers of State: Michael Creed, Michael Ring, Heather Humphreys, Pat Breen and David Stanton.

There are clear geographical divides and also on grounds of gender. Almost all Dublin-based parliamentarians (including all senior Ministers) are in favour of repeal and of the recommendation of the Oireachtas Committee. They include Mary Mitchell O’Connor, who said that reports she was seeking a lower term of 10 weeks for unrestricted access were inaccurate. She said last night that she supported the 12-week period.

Minister of State Catherine Byrne is one of only two Fine Gael TDs in Dublin who has not declared – the other is former ceann comhairle Seán Barrett. Ms Byrne said she had “many bridges to cross” before she would come to a final conclusion on the topic.

However, among rural TDs and Senators, it is clear that many of them have difficulties with the 12-week period.

Gender

There was also clear divisions within the party in terms of gender. The great preponderance of female TDs and Senators back the committee’s proposals, with Ms Hopkins being the only female parliamentarian so far to oppose the 12-week proposal.

Seven Fine Gael parliamentarians have already been included in the Irish Times tracker as being totally opposed to any repeal. They are: Tim Lombard, John Paul Phelan, Paul Coghlan, Ray Butler, Peter Fitzpatrick, Patrick O’Donovan, John O’Mahony and Andrew Doyle.

Other who said as of last night that they had not come to a conclusive position were Mr Stanton; Paul Kehoe, Mr Breen, Joe Carey, Dara Murphy, Paudie Coffey, and Colm Burke. However, all said they favoured the holding of a referendum.

Others who have not fully made up their minds are TDs Tom Neville (Limerick) and Fergus O’Dowd (Louth), although the latter said he was veering towards supporting the Government.

Mr Neville said before the committee meetings he would have opposed the proposal for 12 weeks but its deliberations had given him much to think about and contemplate.

Among the TDs and senators contacted who strongly supported the 12 weeks proposals were Helen McEntee, Maria Bailey, Senator Martin Conway and Senator Neale Richmond, who said he personally favoured access to abortion being extend to 24 weeks, as is the situation in the UK.