Fine Gael storm as female TD accused of abortion 'preaching'
A private debate about abortion among Fine Gael politicians in Leinster House became heated after a female TD was accused of preaching to her male colleagues.
Party chairman Martin Heydon was forced to intervene after what one minister described as the "setting off of a bomb" by Marcella Corcoran Kennedy.
The Offaly TD had urged male members of the party to trust their female counterparts and support the repeal of the Eighth Amendment.
She told the meeting that women would be the ones having to make hard choices.
Her contribution sparked a flurry of responses from pro-life TDs and some who have yet to declare a position on the referendum.
One TD said Ms Corcoran Kennedy's comments were "arrogant", and she had no idea about the level of upset she had caused in the party.
"She might as well have been wagging her finger at us," said one person who attended the meeting on Wednesday evening, which was held shortly after the Government confirmed May 25 as polling day.
Another said Ms Corcoran Kennedy's heart was "in the right place" but it "started a row".
The exchanges took up most of the two-hour meeting, which was also used by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar to brief the party on his decision to expel a Russian diplomat.
It is understood Junior Rural Affairs Minister Sean Kyne spoke up at to say people should not be "preaching" and every view should be respected.
Junior Finance Minister Patrick O'Donovan told the meeting he could not let Ms Corcoran Kennedy's comments go unchallenged.
He said there was an attempt to label those opposed to changes in the law as "Luddites" or part of a "dinosaur brigade".
Senator Michelle Mulherin complained about recent leaks from a previous meeting of female representatives, saying: "Don't talk to me about solidarity among women."
Junior International Development Minister Ciaran Cannon said the party reflected Irish society as a whole, adding that he was deeply respectful of women and knew many who were opposed to repeal.
Unlike Fianna Fail, where major splits on the issue have played out in the Dail chamber, Fine Gael has maintained a largely united front in public on the abortion issue.
As things stand, 23 Fine Gael TDs are supporting abortion up to 12 weeks, 10 say no and 17 are undeclared. However, there have been no significant disputes among the two camps.
Party sources expressed concern that fresh debate had "awoken some sleeping bears".
Yesterday, the campaign against repealing the Eighth Amendment was officially launched at the Gresham Hotel.
Lead speaker Dr John Mona- ghan claimed repeal would not make women safer in pregnancy "but will only change how politicians may legalise abortion".