By Mary Regan, Political Correspondent
The Dáil is preparing for an all-night sitting before the final vote on legislation allowing for abortion in limited circumstances.
But the decision to sit until 5am was branded a “farce” and has sparked a row in the House which is likely to delay procedures further.
The vote was originally scheduled to take place at 10am but the Taoiseach said earlier in the day that it would be extended until midnight.
The Government Chief Whip, Paul Kehoe arrived in the chamber just after 10pm to announce the time extension until 5am to allow time to conclude debate on some 165 amendments to the Protection of Life in Pregnancy Bill.
Avote was called on the time extension after opposition parties said TDs should be allowed to come back in tomorrow to discuss the outstanding amendments.
“There is nothing that requires us to pass this tonight,” said Fianna Fáil’s Eamon O Cuiv.
“I cannot understand why we cannot adjourn the debate and resume it tomorrow and continue having this debate until everyone who wants to make a genuine contribution will be able to do so," he said.
The Galway West TD said the public are “anxious to hear what deputies have to say and they would prefer that we would continue this debate in a proper manner tomorrow.”
Sinn Féin leader, Gerry Adams, said there was a “big argument for changing the way we work in this institution”.
He asked the Government to consider the staff of Leinster House, some with families, who now have to work all night long.
Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin criticised the “absolute lack of consultation” with Opposition parties on the decision to extend the sitting.
He said it had “reduced this situation to a farce” and that “the public perception was one of incredulity”.
Referring to the strongly imposed party whip in Fine Gael, Mr Martin said it was one thing for the Government to use “jackboot tactics against their own members” but another thing to be doing it with the rest of the House.
The Fine Gael revolt over the legislation is expected to be limited after two potential Fine Gael rebels said this evening that they will support the Bill.
The Taoiseach’s two Mayo constituency colleagues, Michelle Mulherin and John O’Mahony both confirmed they will vote with the Government.
Ms Mulherin who had previously expressed strong reservations about the clause allowing abortion if a woman is suicidal, told the Dáil: “I am now faced with either supporting the Bill or being booted out of the party, my party. And I am not going to allow myself to be booted out so I’m supporting this legislation.”
She said she was “very disappointed that there was very little accommodation of the legitimate concerns expressed by myself and many others”.
Her constituency colleague, John O’Mahony, said he was satisfied that “the safeguards are adequate” to prevent abuse of the legislation.
“I have decided to support the passage of the remaining stages of this Bill through the Dáil,” he said in a statement.
Their support for the Bill means that the number of Fine Gael TDs to lose the whip over it is likely to be limited to five.
Junior Minister, Lucinda Creighton, is almost certain to join the four who have already lost the party whip when they voted against earlier stages of the legislation.
Speaking on amendments proposing to remove the suicide clause from the Bill, she said she cannot “support a clause which is essentially built on sand”.