Two leading liberal Fine Gael ministers have committed to addressing abortion in 2016 — with or without the Labour Party in government.
One of the two, Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald, has also railed against the use of “overly simplistic” slogans like “abortion on demand”, which she says is “insulting to women”.
Tánaiste Joan Burton and Labour have in recent weeks trumpeted that it is the “only party to deliver social change”, but the Fine Gael ministers have said the matter will be dealt with, even if Labour fail to form part of the next government.
Speaking to the Irish Examiner, Ms Fitzgerald and Transport Minister Paschal Donohoe both said Fine Gael did not need Labour to move on the controversial 1983 Eighth Amendment to the Constitution. The two ministers are leading lights on Fine Gael’s liberal wing.
They were part of a group of ministers, who, in November, pressurised Taoiseach Enda Kenny to commit to the setting up of a Citzens’ Convention on how to repeal the amendment, which guarantees equal status to the mother and her unborn foetus.
Countering the Labour Party directly, Ms Fitzgerald said Fine Gael “has always led” in terms of social reform, and committed to the holding of the convention, should the party be elected again, as is expected.
Ms Fitzgerald said emphatically: “Yes. Oh, the Taoiseach has given a commitment in relation to that, yes”.
“The process he has suggested, I support fully. It is the right way forward for this issue. To have a process that will work,” she said.
“I have always said it is not simply about saying ‘repeal the Eighth’. If you repeal the Eighth, you still have the old legislation. I have always said repealing the Eighth doesn’t get you very far, so what you have to do is set up a process. I know how complex the issue is.”
Asked whether the convention would happen with or without Labour back in government, Mr Donohoe said boldly: “Yes.”
Mr Donohoe said that there were sharp differences of opinion within Fine Gael about abortion, but said the process of the convention would allow people to express their views.
“The diversity of opinion is there and it does reflect the country at large. There are people there who hold different views on the matter. I am very much aware of that,” he said.
“This is why the process that the Taoiseach has outlined, and committed to doing, is the absolute right way to handle a matter like this. To allow people express their viewpoint on it, and then to facilitate, within Fine Gael, people voting according to those views. But there is a diversity of opinion, within the party, on the matter,” he said.
Ms Fitzgerald suggested that a referendum on repealing the Eighth Amendment could happen before the end of 2016.
“It depends on what happens in the process,” she said.
Referring to the differing opinions, Ms Fitzgerald said: “I prefer to say that Fine Gael is a broad church, it does mean, at times, there are some issues where, clearly, you will get very different opinions”.
“If you look at social reforms and Fine Gael, we are actually the party which has led. We have been progressive on the North and progressive on Europe. Other parties are now in the place we were in in the 1980s,” she added.
“Look at the way we did marriage equality and look at the way that evolved. It was a very good process. I think this issue can be done in the same way.”
In some of her strongest comments to date, Ms Fitzgerald took aim at those who have sought to reduce the debate on abortion to simple slogans.
“This is a divisive issue, it has divided the country, I personally don’t go for simplistic statements on it, I really don’t. For example, I find the term ‘abortion on demand’ to be insulting to women and is pretty pointless as a phrase,” she said.
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