Fine Gael to lose three senators in abortion vote

Fine Gael is expected to lose up to three senators today when the House votes on an amendment objecting to the principle of legislation allowing abortion in limited circumstances.

However, the party leadership expects this will be confined to just two.

After meeting Health Minister James Reilly yesterday, Leitrim-based senator Michael Comiskey — who had strong reservations about the Bill — confirmed he will support it.

Senator Tom Sheahan has also decided to support the legislation following discussions with the Taoiseach.

However, his colleague, Michael Mullins from Galway, said he was still “agonising” over his position and will make his voting intentions known tonight.

The Seanad’s first vote will be on a so-called “reasoned amendment” to the Protection of Life during Pregnancy Bill tabled by Fine Gael TD Fidelma Healy Eames. This amendment will object to the principle of the bill and aims to halt its passage through the House. It argues that it is “dangerous, irresponsible, and unjust” to legislate for abortion for women who are suicidal.

The Galway senator will lose the party whip immediately when she supports her own amendment. She is expected to be joined by Mallow-based senator Paul Bradford whose wife, Lucinda Creighton, was expelled from the parliamentary party when she opposed the bill in a Dáil vote last week.

However, there will be a majority to defeat the amendment and the bill is widely expected to pass through the House at the final vote next week, with the support of three Fianna Fáil, three Sinn Féin, and some Independent members.

The House began debating the legislation last night, with one Fianna Fáil senator saying there are still men in this country who believed a woman’s place is in the home. Ned O’Sullivan said he regretted that 11 out of his 14 Fianna Fáil colleagues in the House will oppose the bill. He said he will join his female colleagues — Averil Power and Mary White — in backing it based on what he described as “informed conscience”.

He said: “There is something very unsettling about a group of male politicians — I include myself in that — presiding on grave matters of fundamental importance to the health of women.

“I’m sure there is still a cohort of men in this country who privately believe that a woman’s place is in the home — only they won’t come out and say it publicly.”

He said that, as a Catholic, he regretted to say that the Church had engaged in “bullying” on the issue.

Veiled threats from the Church authorities were from a different Ireland, an Ireland we have moved on from and have no intention of returning to, he said.

Mr O’Sullivan also called on the pro-life campaign to “come out of the closet and declare what they are spending on propagating their fundamentalist views”.

Independent senator Ronan Mullen who is opposed to the legislation, said it was unfair that senators were getting just 10 minutes each to speak on the bill while TDs were entitled to 20 minutes.

He said the Government was not legally bound to legislate for the Supreme Court ruling in the X Case.

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