Labour TDs call for conscience vote on abortion Bill is ill-advised

Analysis: Application of whip on FG secured passage of X-case law through Oireachtas

Labour deputies seeking a conscience vote on Clare Daly’s Bill are overlooking the fact that the contentious Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill would never have become law in summer 2013 if Fine Gael backbenchers had not been whipped.

Labour deputies seeking a conscience vote on Clare Daly’s Bill are overlooking the fact that the contentious Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill would never have become law in summer 2013 if Fine Gael backbenchers had not been whipped.

 

The chief law officer of the State, Attorney General Máire Whelan, has advised the Government that fresh abortion legislation proposed by Independent TD Clare Daly is unconstitutional.

Ms Daly, along with a growing number of deputies in Leinster House, wants to see abortion allowed in cases of fatal foetal abnormalities and the Dáil will vote on her proposed legislation this evening.

There is no way she will get the support required for the well-intentioned Bill to become law but some Labour backbenchers have nevertheless found themselves in a sticky situation.

While the AG’s advice provides them with political cover to vote with the Government and against the Bill, a number feel their conscience tells them they really should side with Ms Daly.

Wicklow TD Anne Ferris, who has already rebelled over the issue of mother and baby homes, has made clear she will defy the party line this evening.

Ms Ferris was treated gently when she abstained in a Dáil vote on the establishment of a Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes, but expects to lose the whip this time.

The Wicklow deputy’s sincerity on these social issues is not in doubt. She has spoken movingly about her own personal experience of mother and baby homes.

But her move on the always controversial issue of abortion has made life more difficult for other Labour backbenchers, who are also facing a big battle to get re-elected in their constituencies come the next General Election.

Former party grandee Fergus Finlay’s blunt message in his Irish Examiner column today has heaped on the pressure. “If I were a member of the Dáil, and irrespective of what the party whip might say, I’d vote for Clare Daly’s bill,” he wrote.

A call for a free vote has come from Clare TD Michael McNamara, who is also uneasy about opposing Ms Daly’s Bill, and others.

However, some Labour backbenchers are overlooking the fact that the contentious Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill would never have become law in summer 2013 if Fine Gael backbenchers had not been whipped.

The rigid application of the whip is also what secured the X-case legislation’s passage through the Oireachtas.

Minister for Public Expenditure Brendan Howlin this morning delivered a sensitive but firm message on the dangers of raising false hope for the families whose tragic experiences have led them to campaign hard to have fatal foetal abnormalities included in abortion law.

He described these families as being caught in “really painful situations” when he spoke to the media on his way into this morning’s Cabinet meeting.

“We want to give real redress to these people, real solutions to these people, not enact legislation that constitutionally is infirm and therefore will have no effect to them. That I believe would be cruel,” Mr Howlin said.

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