“My book is the Constitution,” Enda Kenny said in a clear reference that he would not be dictated to by an interpretation of the Bible. “The Constitution is determined by the people, it’s the people’s book.”
He was responding to comments by the head of the Catholic Church in Ireland, Cardinal Sean Brady, who said that while the job of TDs and senators was to legislate, they don’t have the “power over life”.
Speaking at Knock Shrine in Co Mayo, where a vigil of prayer was held for the life of mothers and unborn babies, he said that politicians “say they have got it from the people but the people cannot give something that they haven’t got themselves, namely the power over life”.
Cardinal Brady said the Church was attempting to persuade politicians not to introduce the laws “in addition to doing good, we also have to oppose evil and to oppose a law that would take away fundamental rights from people”.
The Taoiseach responded that “it is a matter for Ireland and its people”.
Also speaking in Mayo, he said: “We live within the parameters of the Constitution and strictly within the confines of the law. And that’s where the heads of the bill are entirely focused: within the Constitution and within the law.”
Referring to the fact that the X Case ruling, 21 years ago, has already determined that a woman should be entitled to an abortion if there is a threat to her life, including from suicide, he said: “There is no change on the abortion legislation as it applies in Ireland”.
But he said the Protection of Life in Pregnancy Bill will “bring clarity and certainty”, adding, “I hope that can be achieved in an even and a considered fashion.”
Mr Kenny said he did not want to comment on the threat of excommunication of TDs who vote in favour of the bill, but said: “I have my own way of speaking to my God.”
Cardinal Brady held out the threat of refusing communion to politicians who supported the bill, saying “that is down the line at the moment as far as we are concerned”.
Mr Kenny is also holding the line against some Fine Gael backbenchers who have indicated they will seek amendments to the proposed legislation, saying everyone will have their say, but the laws will be enacted before the Dáil breaks for summer.
Cork North West TD Michael Creed is proposing to bring the law back to the Dáil once a year for approval or to be abolished if the rate of terminations rises significantly from the current rate of 20 to 30 a year.
Its reported that Fine Gael TDs with reservations about the inclusion of the threat of suicide as grounds for a termination want an amendment to limit abortions in such circumstances to the gestation period of 14-18 weeks.
Meanwhile, Fine Gael TD for Wicklow Simon Harris said he disagreed with the former party leader and taoiseach, John Bruton, who was one of around 5,000 people to attend the vigil in Knock and said the legislation was not in accordance with the values of Fine Gael. Speaking on The Week in Politics on RTE, Mr Harris said: “John’s Government was one of six previous governments that didn’t deal with the issue, Enda Kenny’s government doesn’t have that luxury. Women can’t wait any longer, unborn babies can’t wait any longer and medical experts can’t wait any longer to have the clarity that all three deserve.”
Speaking on the same programme, Fianna Fáil’s health spokesperson, Billy Kelleher, said it will be difficult to get consensus on the issue in his party where TDs and senators are disagreed on the what policy to take.