Cabinet adjourns after ‘hot and heavy’ abortion bill row

The cabinet meeting was forced to adjourn yesterday after it descended into a “hot and heavy” row between Fine Gael and Independent Alliance ministers over proposals to liberalise the country’s abortion laws.

There is expected to be a second cabinet meeting this week, after the Government failed to agree a common position on Independent TD Mick Wallace’s bill seeking to allow abortion in cases of fatal foetal abnormality, rape, and incest.

All five Independent Alliance members in the Government have decided to back two of their senior ministers — Shane Ross and Finian McGrath — who want a free vote on the bill, even if it is deemed unconstitutional by the attorney general.

Several government sources confirmed there was a “big ding dong”, forcing the meeting to be adjourned. It began at 7.30am and went on until 10am. “A substantial amount of time” was spent debating the Wallace bill.

It is understood Health Minister Simon Harris presented the Government’s position which was to oppose the bill on the grounds that it was unconstitutional.

Mr Harris told his cabinet colleagues he did not want to give women “false hope” in supporting a bill that will not achieve what it proclaims to.

Health Minister Simon Harris
Health Minister Simon Harris

The alliance ministers were then asked to agree to it but stoutly refused, sources said.

It is believed Mr Ross and Mr McGrath pushed to allow members of the Government a free vote on the bill, which led to the heated exchanges.

A source said the “heavy guys” were coming down on the alliance ministers at the meeting with regards to the attorney general’s advice.

“It was McGrath and Ross verses the rest. There was sympathy from [Michael] Noonan, Leo [Varadkar] and Frances [Fitzgerald] about some sort of compromise on this,” a source said.

The two Independent ministers then met their three other alliance counterparts, including junior minister John Halligan, TD Kevin ‘Boxer’ Moran, and junior minister Seán Canney.

All five agreed that they would back the two cabinet members’ desire to have a free vote.

Frances Fitzgerald and Leo Varadkar
Frances Fitzgerald and Leo Varadkar

Speaking to the Irish Examiner yesterday evening, super junior minister Mr McGrath said: “There was very broad debate on the issue. I always listen to the attorney general concerns, but we also have our core principles and want to support families affected by fatal foetal abnormalities.

“The other issue is the right to have a free vote is very important, the principle of it,” explained the minister for disabilities.

There could be a second weekly cabinet meeting called later this week, possibly tomorrow morning, ahead of the Wallace bill being debated to attempt to agree a government position.

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