Fianna Fáil TD says ‘we don’t wash our linen in public’

Eight FF Oireachtas members at meeting to oppose repeal after Micheál Martin expressed support

Fianna Fáil TD Bobby Aylward (centre) said there was diverse opinion about repealing the Eighth Amendment within the party.  File photograph: Dara Mac Donaill / The Irish Times

Fianna Fáil TD Bobby Aylward (centre) said there was diverse opinion about repealing the Eighth Amendment within the party. File photograph: Dara Mac Donaill / The Irish Times

 

Fianna Fáil TD Bobby Aylward has said he would not be prepared to publicly debate repeal of the Eighth Amendment with a party colleague.

The Carlow-Kilkenny TD had invited all the party’s TDs and Senators to meet to discuss forming a strategy ahead of the referendum, which could result in the introduction of laws significantly liberalising the State’s abortion regime.

Mr Aylward called the meeting after party leader Micheál Martin’s unexpected expression of support for the repeal of the amendment and for women to be allowed abortions up to 12 weeks into a pregnancy. This was in line with the recommendations of an Oireachtas committee.

Mr Aylward was asked on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland on Wednesday if he would go on radio to debate the repeal of the Eighth Amendment with a party colleague, he said he would not.

“We don’t wash our linen in public,” he said

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He said he was determined to advance the view that the majority of members of the party were against repealing the amendment.

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Eight of the 58 members of the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party attended the meeting on Tuesday night organised to oppose the repeal of the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution.

“It was a gathering of like minded individuals,” he said.

Mr Aylward said he sent emails about the meeting to every member of the parliamentary party.

He received 18 apologies and “a lot of others” who felt the meeting was the wrong forum and the discussion should be held at the parliamentary party meeting.

TDs John McGuinness, Mary Butler, Eamon Scanlon, John Curran, Éamon Ó Cuív, Kevin O’Keeffe and Senator Diarmuid Wilson attended.

“This is a policy issue. We felt we should get together to discuss it in an informal setting. There were no formalities, no chairman,” he said.

Mr Aylward said Mr Martin had every right to make his feelings known and he had no problem with individuals doing that.

However, he said he felt Mr Martin’s position was not representative of the remainder of the party whom he felt were mainly “pro life”.

“We want balance. We want other voices heard. There is diverse opinion within the party.”

What is the Eighth Amendment?

Article 40.3.3 of the Constitution, also known as the Eighth Amendment, was inserted into the Constitution after a referendum in 1983. The amendment guarantees to protect as far as practicable the equal right to life of the unborn and the mother. It prohibits abortion in almost all cases. It states: “The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right.” This article was interpreted by the Supreme Court in its judgment in the X case in March 1992. It ruled that abortion is permissible in the State where the continuation of the pregnancy poses a real and substantial risk to the life, as opposed to the health, of the mother and where such a risk could not be averted except by means of an abortion. A substantial risk to the life of the mother included a risk of suicide.

What did the Oireachtas Committee on the Eighth Amendment conclude?

The Oireachtas Committee on the Eighth Amendment concluded in December 2017 that Article 40.3.3 should be removed from the Constitution and politicians should be allowed to legislate for abortion. After three months of evidence and a series of votes, the committee stated the current regime for the termination of pregnancy is unfit for purpose and that constitutional reform is necessary. Legislation should be prepared to permit terminations up to 12 weeks of pregnancy, without restriction, by way of a GP service, the committee said. It concluded that legislating to allow for abortions in the cases of rape and incest would have presented significant challenges. It was the committee’s opinion that a verification process to prove someone was the victim of sexual assault, was likely to be complex or even unworkable and could have caused further trauma to a victim. These difficulties and the availability of abortion pills led the members to agree abortions should be allowed up to 12 weeks of gestation. The committee’s final report also concludes abortions should be allowed when a mother’s life or health is at risk. Such a risk cannot be determined in legislation as it is dependent on individual circumstances and should be considered in a clinical setting.