Tensions on abortion law escalate at Fine Gael meeting

Taoiseach and Minister for Health strongly criticised for lack of consultation at parliamentary party meeting

Internal tensions within Fine Gael over the abortion issue erupted into the open last night when a sizeable number of TDs and Senators challenged Taoiseach Enda Kenny about the need to include suicide in the legislation.

At a parliamentary party meeting that was described by one deputy as the most heated and angry since the election, the Taoiseach and Minister for Health James Reilly faced harsh criticism from TDs and Senators who claimed they had been excluded from the process and that the proposed legislation reflected the stance of Labour on the suicide issue.

Prominent critics
The most prominent critics were Minister of State Lucinda Creighton, Waterford TD John Deasy, Senator Paul Bradford, and Dublin South TD Peter Mathews. A number of other TDs also spoke against the recognition of a suicide threat in the legislation. They included John O'Mahony, Michelle Mulherin, James Bannon and Senator Fidelma Healy Eames.

For his part, the Taoiseach read out to the meeting the full text of the Government's public statement from December 18th, 2012 on its decision to introduce laws to give effect to the X case decision from 1992. He stressed that it would take "into full account the equal right to life of the unborn child". Mr Kenny also firmly said there would be no free vote and that a three-line whip would be imposed on TDs.

Clear guidelines
Ms Creighton told the meeting she accepted the need for legislation to provide clear guidelines as to what should happen if there was any risk to a mother's life, but said there was no evidence to back the inclusion of suicide in that framework.

Ms Creighton said that at the last election she had made a personal commitment to the voters of her constituency that she would not support the inclusion of suicide in any legislation, that Fine Gael had made a similar commitment at national level and it should honour that commitment.

Shortly after the meeting the Ministers charged with finding a solution to the stalemate met and are due to meet again this morning.

The meeting of the parliamentary Labour Party yesterday was also described as "heated" by a number of those present. Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore said there was still a gap between the positions of Fine Gael and Labour.