Members of the Independent Alliance expect that they will have a free vote on a Dáil motion on an abortion referendum in the autumn, reigniting the July divisions in the Coalition that caused the most serious Cabinet split since the formation of the Government.
A number of Independent TDs are likely to vote in favour, although it will be opposed by Fine Gael because the Government – of which the Independent TDs are members – has referred the abortion question to a citizens' assembly, expected to be set up in October.
“We’re not looking for a row about this,” Independent Minister Finian McGrath said yesterday. However, it is expected that having won the concession of a free vote on a Dáil motion on abortion in cases of fatal foetal abnormalities in July, some Independent Ministers will support a forthcoming motion seeking a referendum to repeal Ireland’s constitutional ban on abortion.
However, one Fine Gael Minister said it was his "clear understanding" that the Independent TDs would not support an early referendum, as the programme for government committed to setting up a citizens' assembly to deal with the issue. That was also the Taoiseach's view, the Minister added. The Private Members' Bill will be brought by Anti-Austerity Alliance TD Ruth Coppinger, and is expected to be debated in October.
There will be contacts between the Independents and Fine Gael over the coming weeks designed to avoid difficulties between the two sides over a range of issues in the autumn, but the abortion motion is likely to be problematic.
The Coalition experienced its most serious division so far in July when some Independent Alliance Ministers insisted on supporting a Bill proposed by Independents 4 Change TD Mick Wallace which sought to legalise abortion in cases of fatal foetal abnormality. The Attorney General advised that the Bill was unconstitutional, but the Independent Ministers ignored her advice.