herald

Thursday 14 December 2017

Joan Burton feeling pressure over abortion vote

Joan Burton
Joan Burton

Tanaiste Joan Burton has come under pressure from Fine Gael to impose the party whip when the Dail comes to vote on Clare Daly's controversial abortion bill tomorrow.

Labour TDs have called on their leader to allow a free vote as many of them support Clare Daly's bill, which would grant abortions in cases of fatal foetal abnormalities.

The Government is set to oppose the bill because of advice from Attorney General Maire Whelan that the bill is unconstitutional.

Three years ago, 14 members of the Labour Party signed an open letter calling for abortions to be granted in such circumstances, and the party has been engaged in intense discussions in recent days over its stance on Ms Daly's bill.

Last night, Ms Burton's spokesman ruled out any chance of a free vote saying that the whip system allowed the Government to pass the 2013 Protection of Life Bill into law.

"The whip here is our friend, we got the X-Case legislation because of it," he said.

But it has also emerged that Fine Gael is strongly opposed to any free vote within the Government parties, given they lost seven of their party members, including junior minister Lucinda Creighton, over the X-Case legislation.

"We held our nerve in 2013 at a very high cost for the abortion vote. Labour's call for a free vote is a non-starter," said one Fine Gael figure.

The Herald has also learned that a special briefing for TDs on the legal advice is to be held tomorrow ahead of the crucial vote.

The meeting will be led by Ms Burton and Communications Minister Alex White, who is a barrister.

"The Attorney General will not appear at the meeting, but it is expected that a comprehensive briefing will be given to anxious TDs," said Ms Burton's spokesman.

The meeting had been demanded by TDs who wanted a comprehensive briefing on constitutional reasons for voting against a controversial bill that would allow abortions in the case of fatal foetal abnormalities.

Ms Burton and her advisors are confident that the briefing will be sufficient to quell any dissent within the party.

Repealing the controversial 1983 constitutional amendment is to form part of Labour's manifesto for the next General Election.

ADVICE

Despite the briefing, it is not expected that the terms of the legal advice would be published, as requested by members of the opposition.

Labour figures have said it is unlikely the advice would be published, despite Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney saying he would favour the Attorney General's advice being released.

Fianna Fail TDs will be granted a free vote when the vote is taken tomorrow, the party's finance spokesman Michael McGrath said yesterday.

Mr McGrath was one the main proponents of a free vote when the vote on the 2013 legislation was taken and said that tomorrow will be the same.

Sinn Fein will abstain from voting on Deputy Daly's bill as a motion on the matter is going before the party's Ard Fheis.

hnews@herald.ie

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