Ministers to have freedom on Eighth Amendment vote

The likelihood of Fine Gael ministers voting against plans to repeal the Eighth Amendment and allow unrestricted access to abortion up to 12 weeks has increased, after the party said ministers can vote with their conscience in the Dáil.

Ministers to have freedom on Eighth Amendment vote

And at a special Fine Gael parliamentary party meeting today, TDs and senators will be told there is no abortion referendum ‘Plan B’ and that they will need to decide on the issue.

Speaking to the Irish Examiner after weekend reports that ministers will be given a free vote on both the referendum bill and any subsequent legislation should the Eighth Amendment be repealed, a senior Fine Gael spokesperson confirmed the decision.

The spokesperson said it had previously been believed ministers would be forced to back the Government position, but it has now been agreed this requirement will only relate to taking a united Cabinet position.

This means that, when the referendum bill and any subsequent legislation comes to the Dáil, ministers will be treated like other Fine Gael TDs and can vote based on their conscience.

Of the 12 FG ministers in Cabinet, only six have publicly backed a repeal vote and the 12-week limit plan.

They are Simon Harris, Regina Doherty, Josepha Madigan, Eoghan Murphy, Charlie Flanagan, and Paschal Donohoe.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, Tánaiste Simon Coveney, Richard Bruton, Michael Creed, Michael Ring, and Heather Humphreys all remain silent.

While Government Chief Whip Joe McHugh and Junior Defence Minister Paul Kehoe are also officially not commenting yet, they both raised concerns at last week’s Cabinet meeting.

News of the free vote comes before today’s planned four-hour Fine Gael parliamentary party meeting, during which TDs and senators will be asked to decide where they stand.

While Mr Varadkar is understood to be in “listening mode” and is not expected to outline his views until the end of this month, senior Fine Gael TDs told the Irish Examiner they will tell colleagues there is “no plan B” and that opinions need to be formed on the repeal and 12-week limit issues. The meeting will begin with opening comments from Mr Varadkar, party chair Martin Heydon, and Health Minister Simon Harris, on the planned referendum.

This will be followed by an overview of the Oireachtas committee report’s findings by TD, committee member Hildegarde Naughton.

The meeting is expected to hear pro-choice TDs and senators call for further support, with party senator and Oireachtas abortion committee chair Catherine Noone telling the Irish Examiner the Government should fully implement the committee’s plans.

Pro-life FG members are likely to be equally vocal, senators Ray Butler and Paul Coghlan telling this newspaper repeal will “open the floodgates” and will be “legalising the killing of babies”, respectively.

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