Three Independent government ministers “will have grave difficulty” voting down a Dáil bill next week to liberalise the country’s abortion laws.
Ministers Shane Ross, John Halligan, and Finian McGrath are on a collision course with their Fine Gael counterparts over a bill seeking to allow for abortions in cases of fatal foetal abnormality.
The bill is being brought forward by Independents for Change TD Mick Wallace.
The alliance will formally decide on Friday what way they will go, but the three do not want to vote down Mr Wallace’s bill.
Last night, the Government press secretary said that ministers and government party TDs are unlikely to be given a free vote on proposals to liberalise the abortion laws during a private Dáil motion being held next week.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s refusal to allow government members a free vote is now threatening to result in the first major disagreement for the minority government and possibly even the loss of support of some ministers.
Mr Halligan confirmed to the Irish Examiner last night that he would not back down from his position and intends to back the abortion proposals.
“The alliance has sought a free vote on the Wallace motion. I have voted all my life in this way,” Mr Halligan said.
However, Mr Halligan’s intentions are clear to his colleagues who say he is not for turning.
“He won’t back down on this one,” said one alliance minister.
Mr McGrath, speaking to the Irish Examiner last night said he always supports the rights of individuals to vote freely on controversial issues like abortion.
“I have always supported freedom for conscience on controversial issues. The Independent Alliance will be deciding our position at a meeting on Friday on how we will vote as a collective group.
“But a key part of our group is the right of people to have different views. But we would like to decide as a group on Friday,” he said.
“My own personal view is that we have to face the reality and deal with fatal foetal abnormality in rape and incest cases. That is my personal view but I respect other views,” he said.
It is understood that there is a split of opinion over the matter within the Independent Alliance as junior minister Sean Canney and Kevin ‘Boxer’ Moran set to support the Government and vote down Mr Wallace’s bill.
A private members’ motion is scheduled to be tabled next week by Mr Wallace which is set to call for changes to abortion rules if there is a diagnosis of fatal foetal abnormality.
Mr Kenny’s spokesman yesterday indicated that government members would not expect to be given a free vote on the issue and would be expected to fall into line in opposing the opposition motion.
The spokesman said the only free vote that had been signalled in the programme for government was in relation to any Dáil vote that may arise from a promised assembly and follow-on committee due to debate potential changes to the Eighth Amendment in the Constitution, which protects the life of the unborn.
A free vote, as promised by the Taoiseach, would arise “in that context”, said the spokesman.
“If people stand up for a programme for government, there is an expectation they adhere to it.”
The spokesman said he did not expect “a change to the current process” or arrangement.
“He [Mr Kenny] has not spoken about a free vote in the context of any other vote,” added the spokesman.
Fine Gael and the alliance are on a direct collision course on this issue, which is expected to come before cabinet next week and could even result in a vote being taken by members across the table with Mr Kenny at the weekly meeting.
Elsewhere, the Cabinet agreed yesterday to set in motion the Government’s promise to set up a citizen’s assembly on examining potential changes to the Eighth Amendment.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved