Tuesday 22 May 2018

Kenny 'bounced' into abortion poll decision

James Reilly’s demand for a referendum angered Taoiseach
James Reilly’s demand for a referendum angered Taoiseach

Taoiseach Enda Kenny was "bounced" into his shock move to pave the way for an abortion referendum by two of his most loyal ministers, the Herald has learned.

Pleas by both Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald and Transport Minister Paschal Donohoe to outline a clear policy on abortion forced Mr Kenny to address the divisive issue of the Eighth Amendment, which gives equal status to the rights of the mother and the unborn.

Fine Gael was left stunned following Mr Kenny's pledge to refer the issue of abortion to a 'Citizens Convention' and to allow his TDs and senators to vote with their conscience on any move to repeal the Eighth Amendment.

While Mr Kenny's decision will limit the potential for abortion to be a major issue in the upcoming election, his move paves the way for the first abortion referendum since 2002.

But the Herald can reveal the Taoiseach's move was made just hours after a serious bust-up involving his deputy leader James Reilly.


Dr Reilly's demand for a referendum early in the next Dail term infuriated Mr Kenny, Finance Minister Michael Noonan and senior Fine Gael advisers, who felt his actions "undermined" the position of the Taoiseach.

Prior to this week's Cabinet meeting, Mr Kenny delivered a serious rebuke to Dr Reilly, telling him that he had created problems for the party.

Despite the severe reprimand, Dr Reilly stood by his decision to call for a referendum, telling Mr Kenny: "I said what I said. I believe it. And I'll say it again if asked."

It has now emerged that the row was defused by both Ms Fitzgerald and Mr Donohoe, who insisted that the party had a responsibility to address the issue in its manifesto.

"They did not back James Reilly because they felt he was rushing towards a referendum without first doing the ground work. But they told the Taoiseach that Fine Gael needed to come up with a roadmap for replacing the Eighth Amendment.

"When you have two of the most trusted and loyal members of Cabinet calling for action, what was Kenny supposed to do? He knew he had to act," said a senior Fine Gael source.

Health Minister Leo Varadkar also backed the two ministers.

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