TDs with conviction will pay high price

The initial debate on the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill gave a good indication of just how big a revolt the Taoiseach faces over the issue.

TDs with conviction will pay high price

At least four Fine Gael TDs have confirmed they have voted against it and at least seven more indicated they will hold their fire until they see what amendments can be made at committee stage.

The amendments they require to guarantee their support vary from the technical issues the minister might wish to accommodate to limit the loss of parliamentary party members, to substantive changes that have no chance of being agreed to.

The political costs are high: Any Fine Gael TD who votes against the bill will not only lose the party whip, but will not be on the party ticket at the next election.

As they weigh up their strong personal convictions against their hard-won political careers, here are the Fine Gael TDs to watch as the bill goes through the Dáil over the coming weeks:

Lucinda Creighton: Dublin South West

The most senior member in the party to have difficulty with the legislation, she said would be guided by her conscience on the vote.

She made a number of demands including the complete omission of the suicide clause, the introduction of term limits on when an abortion can take place and legal representation for the unborn.

However, these changes will be too great for the Government to agree to, meaning her no vote — and the sacrifice of her ministerial career that goes with it — is all but certain.

Billy Timmins: Wicklow

Disaffected for some time and feeling overlooked by Kenny, he announced to the Dáil on Thursday that he would vote against the legislation and consequently be out of the party his family has served as elected representatives for over 100 years.

His main concern was that the bill allows the “destruction of unborn human life” on grounds that the mother is suicidal, he said, as well as the failure to include gestational limits on when a termination can be carried out.

“I have knowledge of what is the Fine Gael ethos. When this law is enacted, it will not sit lightly with it,” he said.

Brian Walsh: Galway West

His earlier appeals to the Taoiseach not to expel members who oppose the laws fell on deaf ears, and the first-time TD announced on Wednesday that he would vote against the Bill.

He said the law was decided on the basis of what was best for politicians — particularly those in the Labour Party — rather than the mother and child.

He said the proposed legislation “threatens to defile the statute book with the absurd premise that the suicidality of one human being can be abated by the destruction and killing of another”.

Peter Mathews: Dublin South

He became the first Fine Gael TD to state publicly that he would vote against the legislation, which he said allows “the killing of an unborn baby”.

Quoting a letter he received from a doctor opposed to the bill, he told the Dáil: “Wars come and go, famines come and go, abortion comes and stays.”

A regular critic of the Government’s policy, the Taoiseach is unlikely to lament this thorn in his side from the parliamentary party.

Terence Flanagan: Dublin North East

He made a last-minute plea to the Taoiseach last night to allow a free vote on the issue.

However, so long as Section 9 — allowing abortions to save the life of a suicidal woman — is included, he will be “conscientiously obliged” to vote against the bill at all stages.

James Bannon: Longford-Westmeath

Strongly opposes the inclusion of suicide grounds and is seeking more solid assurances from the health minister that this will not lead to “abortion on demand”.

He compared the Government’s decision not to allow a free vote to authoritarian regimes in Burma and North Korea.

Despite his strongly-expressed concerns, colleagues believe he will be pragmatic enough not to sacrifice his solid seat over the issue.

John Paul Phelan: Waterford

He said last month he would not vote against the bill when it goes through the second stage but that the final stage vote would be “the ultimate jumping time for TDs”.

He was giving little away in his speech yesterday but said the Government is not legally bound to legislate. He said suicide grounds will potentially change the attitude in Ireland to the life of the unborn. Significantly, he expressed hope that the minister can allay some of his fears, leaving open the possibility of voting in favour.

John O’Mahony: Mayo

There is speculation that he will opt to vote for the bill and take advantage of the opening left in Galway West by the departure of Brian Walsh.

However, the constituency colleague of Enda Kenny told the Dáil last night he does not want his vote to be taken for granted.

He said some of his concerns have been allayed following a meeting with the Taoiseach in recent days, but others remain and must be addressed at committee stage in order for him to support the bill. He said he “cannot accept” the right to abortion on the grounds of suicide.

Michelle Mulherin: Mayo

She is hoping the minister can bring clarity on a number of areas of concern before the final votes. But she believes the “correct balance is not being achieved on the suicide grounds” and in a passionate speech, strongly indicated, she will oppose the bill in the final stages.

Michael Creed: Cork North-West

Was considered to be among the category of TDs planning to vote against the bill ever since his call on the health minister to introduce a sunset clause in the legislation. But in his contribution to the Dáil debate, he said he has reached the “difficult” decision to support the legislation at the second stage [today’s] vote after listening to and engaging with all sides. And while he did not guarantee his support at the final stage, he indicated he will vote with the Government, saying he accepts that legislation is needed to give clarity to women.

David Stanton: Cork East

He said he is still thinking “long and hard” about whether to support the legislation and “if I felt strongly — and maybe I might yet — that this was completely wrong, I would vote against it”. However, he is not considered to be among those who will lose the whip on the issue, and said yesterday that the X case is already the law of the land and a referendum would be needed to remove it.

Peter Fitzpatrick: Louth

Previously holding strong reservations about the bill, he said most of his concerns have now been addressed.

However, he wants several — mostly minor — amendments at committee stage, including an obligation on the health minister to lay a report before the Oireachtas each year containing a wide range of statistics and information on abortions taking place in Ireland.

Abortion timeline

* Today: Jul 2:

The first vote will take place on what is known as the “second stage” of the bill.

* Jul 3

Committee stage begins, involving detailed analysis of each section of the bill. Members of the select committee on health can table amendments. Others can attend the hearings but not propose amendments.

* Jul 8: Report stage

A special sitting is expected next Monday to allow more time for report stage of the bill, at which time all TDs can put forward amendments to the legislation.

When these have been debated, it will go for final stage vote in the Dáil. Debate at this stage is unlikely as the guillotine means it may go on for days until all TDs have had their say.

* Jul 11: Seanad second stage.

After the Dáil vote, the bill will go to the Seanad.

* Jul 15-16: Seanad committee and report stage.

* Jul 18: Dáil will vote on any amendments proposed by the Seanad before the final approval of the bill.

It then goes to President Michael D Higgins for his approval before being passed into law.

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