Taoiseach Enda Kenny is the “main obstacle” to a free vote on an abortion bill, several ministers have revealed.
Amid escalating demands for a free vote for Independent ministers, several Fine Gael members of Cabinet have confirmed it is Mr Kenny who is most opposed to allowing such a scenario when the Dáil votes on the issue next Thursday.
“Personally, I would have no problem with a free vote for the Independents, but that certainly is not Enda’s preference,” said one senior minister.
The news comes as the stand off between the Coalition enters its second weekend and amid claims that the Independent Alliance rejected a briefing from medical experts as to why the pending bill was deficient.
It is understood that the crux of the issue is whether Cabinet ministers — in this case Transport Minister Shane Ross and Super Junior Minister Finian McGrath — can vote against advice given by the Attorney General Marie Whelan.
It has emerged, however, that the need for a free vote does not apply to Fine Gael members as the party have agreed to support Health Minister Simon Harris’s stand to oppose Independent TD Mick Wallace’s bill, which will be voted on in the Dáil on Thursday.
But the Independent Alliance were standing firm in demanding a free vote from their Coalition partners.
Speaking to the Irish Examiner, Junior Health Minister John Halligan said he is not for backing down and the alliance are standing united on the issue: “I am not backing down and we are all for one and one for all. There should be a free vote. This is not in the Programme for Government and it clearly is a matter of conscience.”
Mr Halligan gave a trenchent speech in the Dáil on Thursday night in which he said the legal opinion of the Attorney General was irrelevant, the time to act for the women of Ireland has come.
It was made clear last night, Mr Halligan’s speech was delivered on behalf of other Independent Alliance members, not just himself.
No participant in the Dáil debate on the bill on Thursday argued against changing the current and “highly restrictive” abortion laws.
Meanwhile, Fine Gael TD Kate O’Connell on Thursday gave an emotional account of feeling “abandoned” and “so let down by Ireland” when she was faced with the possibility of a fatal foetal abnormality diagnosis. The Dublin Bay South TD said she and her husband received “very little information... from the medical profession”.
Despite her experience she said the Wallace Bill was “bad” legislation which would never lead to a repeal of the Eighth Amendment.
“I would not like to see this still on the table at the end of 2017, I think we need to sort it out but in a compassionate way,” she said.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved