Kenny ‘charm offensive’ to keep TDs on board on abortion Bill

Lucinda Creighton indicates amendments not strong enough to assuage her concerns

Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Minister for Health James Reilly have spearheaded an unprecedented charm offensive over the past week in a concerted campaign to minimise the number of Fine Gael defections in tonight's critical vote on the abortion Bill.

The Taoiseach and Dr Reilly have initiated multiple personal contacts with about 10 parliamentarians who still harbour doubts about the legislation. They have included lengthy one-on-one meetings, telephone calls, informal talks after votes in the Dáil or on the corridors, or meetings with small groups of concerned TDs and Senators.

Attorney General Máire Whelan has also become involved in the process, having detailed one-on-one discussions with a number of TDs to clarify legal points, aspects and repercussions. Among those who have had separate – and lengthy – meetings with Ms Whelan are the Taoiseach's constituency colleagues in Mayo, John O'Mahony and Michelle Mulherin.

Yesterday, Minister of State for European Affairs Lucinda Creighton said she is not optimistic the Government's abortion legislation will be amended in a way that would make it acceptable to her.

Ms Creighton was among a number of Fine Gael TDs with concerns about the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill who met Dr Reilly yesterday.

"I am being reasonable and I've always been willing to listen to what Minister Reilly might have to say in terms of improving the legislation but I'm not very optimistic," Ms Creighton told The Irish Times last night.

The impetus for the campaign orchestrated by the Fine Gael leadership is to contain the number of dissidents over the legislation to five or six TDs and thereby stem any potential for further divisions and reverberations within the party.

“There has been an unbelievable charm offensive,” said one senior Fine Gael figure familiar with the strategy. “They have left no stone unturned to ensure as many of the doubters as possible are drawn back in. The only one that has been written off is Lucinda [Creighton].”

There was a quiet confidence among senior Fine Gael figures last night that only Ms Creighton, and perhaps one other person, would join the four TDs who voted against the Bill last week. Those whose voting intentions remain unknown are Ms Mulherin, Mr O'Mahony, the Kilkenny deputy John Paul Phelan and Michael Creed. Two Senators, Fidelma Healy Eames and Paul Bradford – who is Ms Creighton's husband – are expected to vote against and there are also doubts about which way Galway East Senator Michael Mullins will vote.

Sit-down meetings
The contacts – many of them initiated by the Fine Gael leadership – have intensified over the past few days. Mr Kenny had scheduled separate sit-down meetings with Mr O'Mahony and Ms Mulherin last night and was expected to meet with other TDs through today.

Dr Reilly has cleared his diary and has had regular meetings with virtually all the TDs and Senators whose voting intentions remain unclear.

Mr Phelan has had at least 10 meetings with leadership figures, as had Mr O'Mahony and Ms Mulherin, who spoke at length with Minister for Justice Alan Shatter. There has been intensive lobbying of the TDs by anti-abortion campaigners in recent days.

Twenty TDs have tabled 165 amendments for today’s debate, although not all will be voted on. The Bill is expected to be discussed in the Dáil between 11am and 1.30pm, returning to the chamber at 4.30pm and 7.30pm and again at 9pm. The final vote is scheduled for 10pm.

Yesterday, a perinatal psychiatrist rejected Ms Creighton’s amendments as “impractical” and “unrealistic”. Dr Anthony McCarthy, who is president of the College of Psychiatrists of Ireland and works at Holles Street, described the proposed amendments as “extraordinary”.

Harry McGee

Harry McGee

Harry McGee is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times

Mary Minihan

Mary Minihan

Mary Minihan is Acting Features Editor of The Irish Times