FG TDs open to Church abortion lobbying

A Fine Gael minister has backed proposals by the Church to lobby politicians over abortion, further widening the gulf between the coalition parties on the contentious issue.

The comments by junior finance minister Brian Hayes come a day after a senior Labour minister warned Church authorities to back out of the debate.

The Government is awaiting an expert group’s report on a 2010 European court ruling on abortion which said Ireland needed to legislate or provide a regulatory procedure on abortion.

Eleven other Fine Gael TDs approved of Church leaders intervening.

“Dictating is one thing, lobbying is another. They do have a right to make their points of view known on all issues. But people shouldn’t engage in a lobbying campaign in a vacuum where there’s no [finished] report or proposal. But Catholics, Jews and Muslims all have a right to lobby,” said Mr Hayes.

His remarks contradicted weekend comments by Labour’s Pat Rabbitte, the communications minister, who said it would be like a return to the Church “dictating” to politicians.

The parties’ differences emerged after Cardinal Seán Brady, Primate of All Ireland, said the Church would lobby politicians and wanted a referendum on abortion. Mr Hayes said there was “no political appetite” for a referendum.

The Fine Gael TDs agreed it was acceptable for clergy to lobby politicians.

Dara Murphy, Frank Feighan, James Bannon, Catherine Byrne, Heather Humphreys, Jim Daly, Bernard Durkan, and Anthony Lawlor said they had no problems with the clergy lobbying them.

Mr Lawlor added: “They have an entitlement to lobby. If priests want to talk, I’ll listen. The Church is already lobbying away through constituents.”

Ms Humphreys said: “If they want to make representations, I don’t mind. There’s no point pre-empting the report though.”

Ms Byrne said: “They’re entitled to lobby. It’s important there’s a full debate on the issue. I’ve had five miscarriages before. Losing a baby is a terrible thing no matter what the situation.”

Fine Gael Dublin TD Eoghan Murphy was more cautious: “If the Church want to lobby TDs on this issue they are entitled to, just like everyone else is. But I won’t be considering their entreaties any differently just because they’re the Church. That time in Irish politics is gone.”

Kildare North TD Bernard Durkan said he disagreed with legislators deciding whether abortion laws should be liberalised. “I don’t feel confident to make a decision for a woman in a particular circumstance.”

Longford-Westmeath TD James Bannon said he “didn’t prescribe to Labour’s views”. “I’m totally against it [abortion]. There’s been a lot of misinformation put out about it.”

Mr Hayes said claims of a Coalition split on abortion were “utterly juvenile”.

He added: “People have individual views on this. We need a mature debate rather than boxing people in.”

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