Kenny faces loss of up to nine TDs in revolt over abortion

Creighton expected to support legislation today but may oppose it later this week

Taoiseach Enda Kenny faces the defection of several Fine Gael TDs when the abortion legislation goes to a vote for the first time in the Dáil this evening.

A further five of the party’s TDs cast doubt over their support for the the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill yesterday, adding their reservations about the draft law to those of four Dáil colleagues who have said they will vote against it.

While there is no threat to the Government’s parliamentary majority, the effort over weeks to win over the doubters in Fine Gael is seen as a big test of Mr Kenny’s authority as party leader.

Only one TD – Denis Naughten of Roscommon – has defied the Fine Gael whip since Mr Kenny took power more than two years ago.


Dublin North East TD Terence Flanagan yesterday became the fourth Fine Gael TD to say he would vote against the abortion legislation, following Billy Timmins, Peter Mathews and Brian Walsh who had already confirmed their opposition.

Dáil debate
In addition, Minister of State Lucinda Creighton and four other Fine Gael TDs – John Paul Phelan, Michelle Mulherin, John O'Mahony and James Bannon – all criticised the Bill during the opening Dáil debate on it yesterday. They did not say how they would vote, however.

The vote is scheduled for 5pm today after Mr Kenny’s return from Strasbourg, where he is to address the European Parliament on Ireland’s EU presidency.

Under Fine Gael rules, TDs who lose the party whip must apply to a Fine Gael branch to run for election again for the party and this is subject to the approval of its national executive.

Mr Kenny issued a stern defence of the legislation in his own speech to the Dáil, saying it was not possible to remove the suicide clause. He also rejected demands for a time limit to be applied to when a termination can take place.

“To those who fear that this Bill is the first step towards a liberal abortion regime in Ireland, I say clearly that this extremely restrictive Bill is the only proposal that will be brought forward by this Government on this issue,” he said.

Legal framework
The Bill provides a legal framework for abortion in cases where there is a threat to life to the pregnant woman, including by suicide.

The Taoiseach’s remarks came only hours after Ms Creighton took issue with the suicide clause and the lack of term limits.The expectation in political circles is that she will vote for the legislation today to see whether the Government accepts substantive amendments in the next phase of the Dáil debate.

However, this is considered unlikely and it is expected she will vote against the Bill at the committee stage later this week. This would cost her both her membership of the Fine Gael parliamentary party and her Ministerial office.

Mr Phelan, TD for Carlow-Kilkenny, said it would be reasonable to expect a referendum on the subject.

The Catholic primate Cardinal Seán Brady described the Bill yesterday as “a legislative and political “Trojan horse” which heralds a much more liberal and aggressive abortion regime in Ireland”.

Arthur Beesley

Arthur Beesley

Arthur Beesley is Current Affairs Editor of The Irish Times