Taoiseach Enda Kenny was said to be “stern and grumpy” at Cabinet yesterday, as Independent Alliance ministers faced down his demands to vote against Mick Wallace’s fatal foetal abnormalities Bill.
The lack of agreement within the Cabinet comes as several Fine Gael ministers rushed to the defence of Attorney General Maire Whelan, whose advice they have ignored.
They denied her position is now untenable, given the defiant stance taken by the Independent ministers, but Ms Whelan was considering her position in recent days, sources have said.
During the meeting, Mr Kenny is said to have told ministers of his own position in relation to the Bill and also of the importance of collective Cabinet decision-making.
However, Independent ministers Shane Ross and Finian McGrath said they would support the Bill.
It is understood Mr Kenny was the only Fine Gael minister to speak on the issue at the meeting, which was described as “edgy”.
Given the failure to agree a position, the Government only “noted” the advice from the Attorney General.
While the independents will be free to vote for the Bill, Fine Gael TDs will be subjected to the party whip, thus will oppose the Bill.
Following a failure last week to agree a position, the Cabinet met yesterday to discuss its position on the Bill, which would allow for abortions in the cases of fatal foetal abnormalities, as well as cases of rape and incest.
Labour leader Brendan Howlin has said Mr Kenny’s authority in Government has been called into question after he failed to “bat an eyelid” over the decision by Independent Alliance cabinet members to back an opposition abortion bill.
Speaking during the latest leaders questions Dáil debate yesterday, Mr Howlin said it is deeply worrying that Mr Kenny has been “faced down by members of his own cabinet” and has been unable to stop them taking an “a-la-carte approach to advice from the attorney general”.
The opposition leader said despite the fact the Independent ministers have made it clear they “aren’t bothered” with the opinion of Ireland’s most senior legal adviser, Mr Kenny “hasn’t bat an eyelid” over the controversy.
Claiming the “rule of law” in Government is now broken and that “no rules apply”, Mr Howlin said unless Mr Kenny moves to re-assert his power, his authority will be questioned.
However, responding to the claims, the Taoiseach said the reality is his Government is a “partnership” and that his party “does not have a majority and will not act as a majority”.
He repeated that Mr Wallace’s Bill is “a bad bill for women and doesn’t do anything for them”, adding: “I do have a conscience on that and will not sign a Bill that does nothing for them.”
Chief whip Regina Doherty said that despite the clear advice on the Bill, the Cabinet simply could not agree.
“There was an exchange of views. The Cabinet has a collective responsibility. The intent of Cabinet would have been to oppose this Bill. We all have a conscience, we all want to see this dealt with,” she said.
“The collective Cabinet decision was to note the Bill, note its limitations and note the medical officers. That was as collective as we could have gotten today,” she said.
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