Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin is facing a widescale backbench revolt over his pro-choice abortion views, after half of his party’s TDs voted against allowing any referendum on the Eighth Amendment.
The major push-back took place as a Government minister lashed out at the attempt to gag the public last night, claiming any strategy to prevent a national abortion vote is “an affront to democracy”.
In a key second stage vote yesterday, the Dáil voted by 110 TDs to 32 to support the referendum bill formally allowing an Eighth Amendment referendum.
The vote was repeated last night at committee, report and final stage, meaning the bill can be sent to the Seanad next week. However, although the bill’s passing means a May 25 referendum date remains on track, the level of opposition led to private concern in government and opposition parties last night.
While 32 TDs in total voted against the bill at second stage — including Fine Gael TDs Sean Barrett and Peter Fitzpatrick, Independent Alliance TD Sean Canney, six rural Independent TDs and Sinn Féin’s Carol Nolan — the most significant opposition came from Fianna Fáil.
Despite party leader Micheál Martin being fully in favour of repeal and 12 weeks, 21 of his TDs voted against the referendum compared to only 20 in favour.
Speaking to the Irish Examiner last night, pro-life Fianna Fáil TDs Bobby Aylward and John McGuinness said they still want a referendum but opposed the bill as it is a back-door route to 12 weeks, a view repeated by other party colleagues.
Mr Aylward, who in January publicly called for a pro-life meeting of Fianna Fáil TDs, said while he “agonised” over the vote as he is “a democrat to my core”, he could not support the bill as it will open the door for potential 12-week abortion access.
Mr Aylward confirmed he and others have spoken with other TDs in recent days, and said Mr Martin “should have known” there would be a revolt “from the very beginning”.
A spokesperson for Health Minister Simon Harris last night only said he welcomes the passing of the bill, while a spokesperson for Mr Martin simply said Fianna Fáil has a free vote.
However, the reality that half of Fianna Fáil TDs have openly opposed Mr Martin has led to fresh concern the referendum and any future 12-week law will be blocked.
Skills Minister John Halligan accused those opposing the bill of “an affront to democracy”.
“They are a disgrace. They are not fit to be in a modern government. The people have a right to be asked the question and to try and stop that from happening is nothing short of an affront to democracy,” he said.