Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said he has been contacted by women coming forward with personal stories following his speech in the Dáil backing a repeal of the Eighth Amendment.
In a surprising and powerful 20-minute speech on Thursday, Mr Martin said that he would support the recommendations of the Oireachtas committee on the Eighth Amendment, including providing unrestricted access to abortion up to 12 weeks’ gestation.
His comments sparked criticism and praise from within his party, whose members have been given a free vote on the matter.
Speaking to the Irish Examiner, Mr Martin said there has been “a lot of silence” in the country and he hopes discussions around abortion and the Eighth Amendment may give people a voice to tell their stories.
“A lot of people have opened up to me since I gave my speech in the Dáil,” he said, telling of one woman, who had experienced a fatal foetal abnormality, ringing him yesterday morning.
Mr Martin said that his opinions had evolved in recent years, but cited two pivotal moments which helped cement his views.
The first came two years ago when he met women who were forced to travel to the UK for abortions after finding out their children had fatal foetal abnormalities.
The second was when he had the time to examine the expert and medical testimony heard by the Oireachtas committee over the Christmas break.
“Two years ago, I would have met with women who had to go to England with fatal foetal abnormalities and those stories were harrowing,” said Mr Martin.
He said the personal accounts of women who had to transport the remains home in the boot of their cars had a deep impact on him.
“After meeting those women, I would have heard of other cases that I knew, but there has been a lot of silence in the country.”
A number of Fianna Fáil backbenchers yesterday came out against Mr Martin, including Carlow–Kilkenny TD Bobby Aylward, who said he would be organising a meeting next week of Fianna Fáil members who are opposed to a repeal of the Eighth Amendment to discuss the matter.
Mr Martin said he understands that it is a “very difficult” issue for many in his party and some members will be “disappointed” by his comments.
“I understand that people have their own deeply held views,” said Mr Martin, adding that he hoped the calm approach which had so far been taken in discussing the Eighth Amendment would continue.
He defended his decision to make his comments in the Dáil and not during a parliamentary party meeting held earlier in the week.
He said: “I though the best platform was the Dáil itself because I had 20 minutes to lay it out for everybody in the Dáil. It allowed me to lay my views out in a structured way.
“Sometimes in modern politics the platform of the parliamentary speech is not given the same important as it may have previously got.”
Mr Martin added that he thought it would not have been right to announce his opinions at a media event.
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