Most of Fianna Fáil’s frontbench are opposed to allowing unrestricted access to abortion for pregnancies up to 12 weeks or have concerns about liberalising the laws to that extent.
The Irish Examiner contacted all front-bench members and while there are mixed views about implementing recommendations for the abortion referendum, most TDs who spoke oppose the current plans.
Many Fianna Fáil TDs also said there is confusion and a “vacuum” as the Government has yet to decide on how to proceed, with ministers having mixed views on the abortion referendum.
An Oireachtas committee recommended repealing the Eighth Amendment — the part of the Constitution which recognises the equal right to life of a mother and her unborn child — and instead allowing women access abortion without restrictions for pregnancies up to 12 weeks.
Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin will lead a meeting of the front bench on Tuesday, where the report will be discussed, ahead of the larger parliamentary party meeting on Wednesday. While some front-bench members have yet to decide their position, many are reluctant to accept the committee’s recommendations.
Some prominent party TDs also want to wait until the Government reveals what legislation is being planned — if the Constitution is changed.
Housing spokesman Barry Cowen told the Irish Examiner: “We’re a bit in the dark. The ball is firmly in the Government’s court. If it is repeal on its own, it would be carte blanche, abortion on demand, which will not sit comfortably with the public. I’d have concerns. The electorate needs to be told what will follow.”
Foreign affairs spokesman Darragh O’Brien agreed, saying: “We are in a bit of a vacuum. Twelve weeks is not something I could personally support.”
Justice spokesman Jim O’Callaghan said he opposed allowing terminations up to 12 weeks without restriction.
“I do not support the proposal for abortion up to 12 weeks as I am concerned it would significantly increase the number of pregnancies with Down syndrome or other disabilities that are terminated.”
However, Health spokesman Billy Kelleher, who sat on the committee, pointed out that tests for Down syndrome and other disabilities were only available at 20 weeks, one of the reasons the 12-week cut-off was chosen.
Disabilities spokeswoman Margaret O’Mahony Murphy said: “I do not think people are ready for 12 weeks and I’m totally against the 12-week limit.”
However, others on the front bench said change was needed. Brexit spokesman Stephen Donnelly said: “I’m in line with the party’s recommendation to the Oireachtas committee, in favour of 12 weeks, no questions asked, especially where it affects the health of a mother.”
Communications spokesman Timmy Dooley also said he supports the recommendations, adding: “Politicians should facilitate debate on this, but campaigning is not an essential part.”
A number of FF TDs who did not return calls, including finance spokesman Michael McGrath, are also known to oppose liberalising Ireland’s abortion laws.
Where Fianna Fáil TDs stand
Housing spokesman Barry Cowen: “The ball is firmly in the Government’s court. If it is repeal on its own, it would be carte blanche, abortion on demand, which will not sit comfortably with the public. I’d have concerns there. They [the Government] have got to give some indication of what will follow. The electorate needs to know what follows [repeal].”
Foreign affairs spokesman Darragh O’Brien: “We have got to know what the Government response is: A straight repeal or replacing it [the Eighth Amendment]. The Taoiseach’s statement is ambiguous. We are in a bit of a vacuum. Twelve weeks is not something I could personally support.
Brexit spokesman Stephen Donnelly: “I’m in line with the party’s recommendation to the Oireachtas committee, in favour of 12 weeks, no questions asked, especially where it affects the health of a mother. Abortion for late-term though, I’m not comfortable with, unless it is for situations such as fatal foetal abnormalities.”
Transport spokesman Robert Troy: “There needs to be a referendum. In some cases I’m supportive of it [abortion], such as fatal foetal. I still want to see what comes out of the Dáil debate. But I have reservations about allowing it up to 12 weeks. But I would support it in some circumstances.”
Party chief whip Michael Moynihan: “I haven’t made my mind up yet. We don’t know what the Government proposals are. They are a bit cross-eyed, we don’t know the plan. My concern is it [the committee recommendations] might go too far. We need to proceed with absolute caution and make sure we are doing the right thing.”
Communications spokesman Timmy Dooley: “This is a very emotive issue, people have different views. Nobody should be bullied on it. I think change is needed. My thoughts are very much in line with the committee’s. Their recommendations are needed to address the myriad of situations to allow for abortion. Politicians should facilitate debate on this, but campaigning is not an essential part.”
Justice spokesman Jim O’Callaghan: “I believe the current system is too restrictive and should be amended to deal with fatal foetal abnormalities, rape, and threats to the health of the mother. This could be achieved through amending or repealing the Eighth Amendment. I do not support the proposal for abortion up to 12 weeks as I am concerned it would significantly increase the number of pregnancies with Down syndrome or other disabilities that are terminated.”
Dublin spokesman John Lahart: “I am still going through the Oireachtas committee witness testimonies and engaging with constituents on the issue so I’m not in a position to answer.”
Children’s spokeswoman Anne Rabbitte: “I voted against repealing the Eighth Amendment [in the committee]. For once I agree with the Taoiseach, 12 weeks is definitely is a step too far.”
Disabilities spokeswoman Margaret O’Mahony Murphy: “I will vote against repeal but will not force my views on someone. I’m totally against the 12-week limit.”
Mental health spokesman James Browne: “I’m against repeal, but a referendum has to be held. It should be a straight repeal or not question. I put a lot of thought into that on the committee and try to allow for difficult cases, but no, I’m not in favour of 12 weeks.”
Defence spokeswoman Lisa Chambers did not return calls but voted in favour of repeal and 12 weeks at the committee.
Health spokesman Billy Kelleher: “I am in favour of repeal and 12 weeks. People are saying 12 weeks may be an issue, but it’s worth remembering the Citizens Assembly recommendation was 22 weeks, so the committee is in fact more restrictive.”
Rural affairs spokesman Eamon Ó Cuív: “I am not in favour of repealing the present protection of human life in the Constitution “