Four TDs who voted against bill lose party whip

Four Fine Gael TDs who voted against legislation allowing abortion in limited circumstances were last night expelled from the parliamentary party and told they would be stripped of their membership on Oireachtas committees.

Letters outlining sanctions were being prepared last night for the rebel TDs who include Wicklow TD Billy Timmins, Peter Mathews of Dublin South, Brian Walsh of Galway West and Terence Flanagan of Dublin North East.

They voted against the second stage of the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill, despite a last- minute meeting with the Government chief whip Paul Kehoe, advising them of the consequences of their actions.

While expressing disappointment that a free vote was not granted and facing exile from the party, Deputy Flanagan last night said he felt “much relief that the vote is over”: ” I obviously had a lot of soul searching and to make a big decision here in relation to my career versus my conscience.

“I would like to continue to sit on the government benches. I’ll have to accept what the discipline is.

“I didn’t think I’d be in this situation initially, when the government was formed. My party gave a significant commitment that we are opposed to legalising abortion.

“I feel a free vote should be allowed in all political parties on an issue of conscience, of life and death.

“I feel that there are members in my own party who are not expressing their real opinion on the issue because they’re being denied that opportunity through the whip system.”

The TD called on his colleagues to reflect on the Bill and see how amendments go at committee stage this week and to “vote accordingly with their conscience.”

Letters outlining the removal of the four Fine Gael TDs from the parliamentary party were being prepared last night. A motion to remove Mr Mathews and Mr Timmins from the Oireachtas Finance Committee will be passed in the Dáil today.

Mr Timmins last night said he never expected loosing the party whip over opposing abortion legislation.

All four TDs will be assigned seats with the opposition in the Dáil and will have to move offices in Leinster House, away from the Fine Gael area.

Sinn Féin Meath West TD Peadar Tóibín also faces expulsion from his party after he defied his party’s decision to support the Bill: “It’s obviously a very difficult situation, I’m desperately saddened by having to separate from my party on this issue. I’ve invested over the last 16 years all my energies in trying to grow Sinn Féin.

“For me, it’s been an impossible ask with this legislation. It allows for late term abortion. A child in the womb at 21 weeks, alive and kicking would have protection in liberal abortion regimes like Germany but wouldn’t have the protection of the law here in Ireland.”

He said the party would go through some level of disciplinary procedure with him now.

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