A Government minister has compared the expulsion of Fine Gael TDs for their revolt against contentious abortion legislation to a death in a family.
As Peter Mathews, Terence Flanagan, Brian Walsh and Billy Timmins face being kicked off Oireachtas committees, Transport Minister Leo Varadkar said he was disappointed by their dissention.
“It’s always hard to lose colleagues and it’s almost like losing a member of the family to see somebody lose the whip,” Mr Varadkar said.
“But ultimately that was their decision to do so and we have to respect that.”
The four TDs were automatically expelled from the Fine Gael parliamentary party after they voted against the Government in the first series of ballots on the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill 2013.
As many as seven more Fine Gael TDs are said to be toying with rebellion over the bill, but they have until a final vote, expected in about a week’s time, to decide.
Lucinda Creighton, Minister for European Affairs, is believed to be the most senior figure opposed to parts of the legislation – namely a clause allowing abortion when an expectant mother is at risk of suicide.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny has continually warned that members of his party face exile if they refuse to support the legislation, which is expected to be passed before the Dáil breaks for the summer on July 18.
Elsewhere, cross-party TDs remain locked in talks with Health Minister James Reilly as the bill passes through an Oireachtas sub-committee on health, where proposed amendments are being considered.
There has been no time limit set on the latest stage, but when complete, the bill will return to the Dáil for politicians to cast their final vote before it is passed to the Seanad and finally to President Michael D Higgins who will sign the legislation, officially enshrining it in Irish law.
Government members opposed to parts of the legislation have argued suicide should not serve as legal grounds for abortion, with some claiming a termination could do more damage to a woman’s mental health.
Mr Kenny has repeated his commitment to ensuring the so-called suicide clause remains in the legislation.
If enacted, the bill will legalise abortion where there is a real and substantial risk to the life of the mother, including the threat of suicide.
It aims to legislate for the X case judgment from Ireland’s Supreme Court, which found abortion is legal if there is a real and substantial risk.
The case was taken by a 14-year-old rape victim who became pregnant and was refused permission to travel for an abortion.
The European Court of Human Rights also previously found that Ireland discriminated against a woman in remission with cancer who was forced to travel overseas for a termination.