Fianna Fáil TD calls on Martin to allow free vote on abortion
Party whip should not apply on such a divisive issue, says Michael McGrath
Fianna Fáil finance spokesman Michael McGrath TD: “People have very strong personal views and I think for our party that that should be recognised.” Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill
Fianna Fáil finance spokesman Michael McGrath has publicly called on party leader Micheál Martin to allow TDs and Senators a free vote on the proposed abortion legislation.
Mr McGrath, who is Mr Martin’s constituency colleague in Cork South-Central, said the situation would become difficult for many TDs and Senators if a party whip was imposed because there were “very divergent” views within the parliamentary party.
“I think that’s no secret at this stage. I suggested at the last [parliamentary party] meeting that we should consider allowing people the right to vote in accordance with their conscience, to allow people a free vote on this issue,” Mr McGrath said.
“I think that that would represent a form of new politics that we have signed up to.”
Fianna Fáil has remained split on the Government’s draft legislation on abortion despite strong signals from the party leadership that the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill should be supported.
A large group of Senators and some TDs expressed concern about the inclusion of a suicide clause during a private4½-hour meeting of the parliamentary party earlier this month, with some insisting they could not support the planned law in its current form.
They agreed to return to the contentious issue after the Oireachtas health committee hearings on the Bill, which concluded last night. The parliamentary party is expected to meet again in the coming days.
Mr McGrath, who has not spoken publicly about the matter before, was launching a Bill to strengthen the deposit guarantee scheme outside Leinster House yesterday afternoon when he was asked about the party’s position on abortion legislation.
“This is a particularly sensitive, divisive issue. People have very strong personal views and I think for our party that that should be recognised,” he said.
“And we also do have to bear in mind that only a few weeks ago our ardfheis, through the new democratic one-member-one-vote system, did pass a number of strong pro-life motions. We have to have regard to that as well.”
Mr McGrath said while the objective of the party was to come to an agreed position, he thought that would be difficult. “I don’t believe it is the type of issue where a party whip system should apply,” he said. “I think that we should strongly consider allowing each individual TD and Senator the right to vote in accordance with their own conscience. I think it is a unique situation.”