Free vote on abortion for Fine Gael ministers, says Kenny

Stance contradicts director of elections who said ministers should resign if disagreeing on policy

 Taoiseach Enda Kenny  said Fine Gael ministers  would be allowed to vote with their conscience on the eighth amendment, regardless of whether the party was in government after the election.  File photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times

Taoiseach Enda Kenny said Fine Gael ministers would be allowed to vote with their conscience on the eighth amendment, regardless of whether the party was in government after the election. File photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times

 

Government ministers will be allowed to vote for or against a repeal of the eighth amendment to the Constitution without fear of repercussion, Taoiseach Enda Kenny has indicated.

Mr Kenny said members of Fine Gael would be allowed to vote with their conscience on the issue regardless of whether they were in government or not. “If it comes to a point where there is an issue to be decided by vote I’ve already said that the members of my party would have a free vote and that applies whether they are in government or not in government as ministers,” he said.

The Taoiseach’s statement contradicts the party’s director of elections, Brian Hayes, who insisted ministers should resign if they disagreed with future government policy on abortion.

Speaking in Germany, while on a trade mission, Mr Kenny said this was a sensitive and personal decision for everybody and it required a rational and comprehensive discussion. He said he had committed to allowing a free vote to Fine Gael TDs and he wanted to see a citizen-led forum examine the issue.

Asked if ministers would be allowed to campaign in favour of or against a possible referendum, the Taoiseach said: “If you get to a point, and I can’t predict the outcome of any of the conclusions of the process, if we get to the point where there is a vote they will be voting in respect of what their conscience tells them.”

A Government spokesman later said it was premature to discuss campaigning when the process had not been determined.

Mr Kenny has committed to a constitutional review of the eighth amendment, which bans abortion, within six months of the general election if Fine Gael is returned to government. The Taoiseach has said a citizens’ forum to debate changes to the eighth amendment, which gives an equal right to life to the mother and the unborn, would be established to examine the issue. The Taoiseach had committed to a free Dáil vote for his TDs on whatever the outcome of the forum is.

However Fine Gael’s director of elections had said the next government would adopt whatever position was recommended by the forum and cabinet and junior ministers who went against that policy should be fired.

Mr Hayes said: “Now whether it should apply to members of the government is another matter. That is not the same as backbenchers. I have always held the view that if the government, per se, including all ministers of State, are arguing for something in terms of a legislative proposal, then it is incumbent on you as a member of the government to support or leave the government. This would be post the people’s convention that the Taoiseach is proposing.”

Fine Gael said the forum would be “a process of consideration by citizens, expert groups and politicians” of the issue but added that its proposed structure had not been finalised.

Labour and Sinn Féin have committed to a repeal of the amendment, while Fianna Fáil will allow a vote of conscience on the issue.