Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil to block votes at abortion committee

Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil members of the Oireachtas committee on the Eighth Amendment will block any further motions on the amendment if they are put down before the cross-party group completes its work.

Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil to block votes at abortion committee

Key party committee members are understood to have informally agreed the position before a likely formal request by Solidarity-People Before Profit TD Ruth Coppinger for a vote on Thursday to mark the five-year anniversary of Savita Halappanavar’s death.

The Irish Examiner has learnt that, if Ms Coppinger tables the motion at tomorrow’s meeting, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil members will force a vote on Fianna Fáil’s shelved motion last week asking for no votes until the group’s work concludes in December. Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil members said this is because of concerns that repeated votes could undermine the committee’s independent image and distract from its meetings.

Last Wednesday, the committee formally voted on a Sinn Féin compromise proposal “not to retain article 40.3.3 of the constitution in full” by a ballot of 15 votes to three, with two committee members abstaining, and one not in attendance.

The unexpected move was in response to a row over whether to allow a combined motion from eight committee members seeking an immediate vote to repeal the law in its entirety last week.

The original full repeal vote motion was opposed by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael due to concerns that it was too early to make a decision, and by Independent senator Ronan Mullen and Independent TD Mattie McGrath due to their opposition to repealing the Eighth Amendment.

It was initially backed by Ms Coppinger, Independent senator Lynn Ruane, Independents4Change TD Clare Daly, Labour TD Jan O’Sullivan, Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy, and Sinn Féin members Jonathan O’Brien, Louise O’Reilly, and Paul Gavan, with the “not retain in full” proposal ultimately tabled as a compromise by Mr O’Brien.

While welcoming the vote in favour of not retaining the existing law in full, Ms Coppinger said in a letter to committee members last Thursday it has created “uncertainty” among the public as to what the vote means. She said this will continue “unless we now take the logical next step” of voting this week “to commemorate Savita Halappanavar in the most meaningful way”, and is understood to be in favour of a repeal vote on Thursday.

The Irish Examiner understands that since Ms Coppinger’s letter, several Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil committee members have agreed in principle to seek a vote on last week’s Fianna Fáil motion ruling out further votes until the group has concluded its work if a full repeal vote is sought this week.

While Fine Gael TD Kate O’Connell has been outspoken in her pro-choice views, it is believed all six of the party’s committee members will back such a motion, as will Fianna Fáil members.

Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil control 11 of the committee’s 21 votes, and can therefore, block or pass any motion.

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