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Fianna Fáil to examine if free votes should be given more often

Micheál Martin tells TheJournal.ie that a committee is to examine whether other matters merit a conscience vote.

A Fianna Fáil committee is to examine plans that would give TDs and Senators a free vote more reguarly, when the Oireachtas is discussing divisive social issues.
A Fianna Fáil committee is to examine plans that would give TDs and Senators a free vote more reguarly, when the Oireachtas is discussing divisive social issues.
Image: Laura Hutton/Photocall Ireland

FIANNA FÁIL LEADER Micheál Martin has said his party is attempting to devise a system where its TDs and Senators will be permitted to vote as they see fit on certain major issues.

Speaking exclusively to TheJournal.ie this evening, Martin said a committee would be set up to try and identify red-button topics where personal opinions were too sincerely held to be comprised by a party vote.

The Fianna Fáil leader was speaking after a meeting of his parliamentary party had decided not to impose a party whip on any votes relating to the forthcoming abortion bill – allowing members to either approve or oppose the legislation as they see fit.

The decision marks the first time in several years that a major party will have allowed its members to participate in Oireachtas votes without any direction on how they should act.

Though Martin said the whip system did have value as a tool to ensure a government’s work was not unduly disrupted, he said there was a balance to be struck “between governance and parliamentary representation”.

Asked what subjects might be considered thorny enough to warrant a free vote among Fianna Fáil members, Martin pointed to recent examples in Australia where MPs were given a free vote on matters like abortion, euthanasia and the death penalty.

The former minister said the protocol would try to identify a “narrow range of issues” upon which the whip would not be applied – but insisted that politics would “evolve” so that more major parties would allow TDs to vote with their conscience on divisive social matters.

‘I didn’t want to lose people’

Though he believed Fianna Fáil was going through “a period of renewal”, Martin acknowledged that FF could have lost some of its more experienced Oireachtas members if it had enforced either a supportive or opposing stance to the Protection of Life in Pregnancy Bill.

“I didn’t want to lose people,” he admitted, saying there were “people of calibre” who would now feel safe to contribute to the party.

There had been roughly a 50-50 split among Fianna Fáil’s 33 parliamentarians when the substance of the legislation was first discussed about a month ago, he said, explaining that many members had problems with allowing the risk of suicide as grounds for an abortion.

“Others, like myself, felt the Bill was restrictive,” he said, outlining that a woman at risk of suicide does not currently need to undergo a mandatory psychiatric assessment before being put forward for a termination.

“Others are worried about the impact down the line, and I respect that.”

Read: Fianna Fáil TDs and Senators to have free vote on abortion bill

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Gavan Reilly

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