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'Good, measured debate' - Fine Gael TDs met for almost five hours to talk about abortion

A two-day debate on the abortion issue kicks off on Wednesday.

Image: Niall Carson

TAOISEACH LEO VARADKAR has told a meeting of Fine Gael TDs and Senators that the recommendations of the Oireachtas committee on the Eighth Amendment are a ‘strong option’.

The special Fine Gael parliamentary party meeting lasted for almost five hours today, ahead of the Dáil returning tomorrow to discuss the recommendations of the Oireachtas committee.

The Taoiseach told the meeting that once an agreed question for the referendum is put forward then people’s individual views will come into play, according to a source.

The party also discussed how a robust and well-resourced referendum commission is seen as crucial for the referendum.

The special parliamentary party meeting was called to give politicians an opportunity to discuss the issues in private, before the two-day debate on abortion kicks off on Wednesday.

At the meeting, TDs and senators were presented with a document which explained how the committee made its decisions.

The meeting was described by one Fine Gael member as a ‘good measured debate’. The member also said it was their sense that the party would back the recommendations of the Oireachtas Committee.

Some members spoke about their concerns at the meeting, but one source said most were ‘listening to all sides with great interest’.

When asked what the Taoiseach meant by a “strong option”, Fine Gael party chairperson, Martin Heydon said the Oireachtas Committee report is not a Fine Gael report but an all-party report.

“I think what the Taoiseach is outlining is that that gives the report a lot of weight than if it was one party political viewpoint and if you were to move away from the recommendations in that report you would need a very good reason for doing so,” he told reporters this evening.

While many Fine Gael members accept the recommendations, a number are said to have concerns, particularly around the 12 week limit for abortion.

One Fine Gael TD said there was “confusion” and “concern” about the time period proposal among some members.

Heydon acknowledged that a number of Fine Gael party members spoke about being “conflicted” over the issue.

He said both men and women of the party recounted their own “personal experiences, the process of being parents, and the ups and downs that go with that” during the meeting.

Last week, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar told reporters that the committee’s report went further than some, including himself, had imagined. He said some politicians have concerns about the 12 week recommendation, while others do not.

Varadkar is allowing a free vote on the issue for party members. This will include ministers, although he has stated that the Cabinet must make a decision as a collective.

He has also said that TDs and senators can campaign as they wish in the run up to a referendum, which is due to be held at the end of May.

A number of TDs and ministers have made their viewpoint on the issue known, with politicians such as Simon Harris and Eoghan Murphy stating that they are in favour of repealing the Eighth Amendment. However, others have been less than forthcoming with their opinion.

The Taoiseach is yet to set out his stall, as is the Tánaiste Simon Coveney. Education Minister Richard Bruton, and Minister for State for Higher Education, Mary Mitchell O’Connor both refused to set out their views to the media today.

The two-day debate in the Dáil begins on Wednesday afternoon.

Read: Here is the final report of the Eighth Amendment Committee

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