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Independent Alliance to seek a free vote on Repeal the Eighth Bill

The government faces another hurdle after the Budget next week.

Independent Alliance Members, Minister of State for Skills and Training John Halligan and Minister of State for Disabilities Finian McGrath.
Independent Alliance Members, Minister of State for Skills and Training John Halligan and Minister of State for Disabilities Finian McGrath.
Image: Sam Boal

INDEPENDENT ALLIANCE MEMBERS are to seek a free vote on AAA-PBP’s Bill on repealing the Eighth Amendment.

The Private Members Bill is to be debated on 25 October, with a vote taking place on 27 October. It was pushed on by one week due to the Budget.

The Bill calls for a referendum to be held to repeal the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution and allow the Dáil to legislate for abortion services in Ireland.

An Independent Alliance source said the members have the same thought’s on the Bill as they did on Mick Wallace’s legislation on fatal foetal abnormalities.

Their position is that there should be a free vote on the issue. It’s expected that Sports Minister Shane Ross, and junior ministers John Halligan and Finian McGrath would support the Bill.

Junior minister Sean Canney and Kevin ‘Boxer’ Moran are expected to vote against the Bill, with the government.

“We don’t want any hassle with this. Not all of our members will support the Bill. We don’t want the government to make a big deal of this,” said one Independent Alliance TD.

Wallace’s Bill divided the minority government, with members seeking a free vote, much to the dissatisfaction of Government.

Independent Alliance Ministers Shane Ross, John Halligan and Finian McGrath voted against the Government on the Bill. Minister for Children Katherine Zappone, an Independent TD, voted with Fine Gael on the issue.

In the end, the Bill was defeated by 95 to 45.

Despite the Bill coming down the line in just under two weeks, it’s believed the party has not held any formal discussions on the matter.

However, sources close to the Independent Alliance party said the AAA-PBP Bill has been on the radar for some time.

“Once we get past the Budget we are going to have to deal with that,” said the source.

No sooner does this Government get over its first hurdle of the second term – Budget 2017 – it is facing a new crisis with this Bill.

A number of Independent Alliance members and independents in government have publicly said they are in favour of repealing the Eighth Amendment.

Thorn in their side

Minister of State for Skills and Training, John Halligan, who has long been a thorn in the side of the government, has said on the record he will vote against Government on the issue.

His lack of toeing the line has got him in hot water before. He came close to resigning after he claims there was a u-turn in delivering a second cath lab for Waterford Hospital.

Abortion rights is an issue he has spoken passionately about in the Dáil.

While he stayed at the Government table following the Waterford Hospital scandal, it is questionable if he will do the same on this issue.

In an interview with TheJournal.ie Halligan before the summer, he said he made it clear during government formation talks with Fine Gael that he is pro-choice, stating that it “didn’t go down well”.

When asked what way he would vote, he said:

I will vote any way I want to vote on that too. I will be voting to repeal the Eighth Amendment. It is not in programme of government from what I can see. And out that will go. I am not obliged to vote with the government on that, so that doesn’t impact on my principle on that.

March for Choice

However, it’s not just the Independent Alliance that pose a problem to Fine Gael.

Last month, wearing a “Repeal” black and white jumper, Minister Zappone joined the 20,000-strong crowd of protesters calling for a repeal of the Eighth Amendment.

Voting with the government on this one will certainly fly in the face of what many of her supporters will say she was elected for.

“The solution is that everyone gets a free vote – the government digging in on this will not help the situation,” said one Independent Alliance member, who added that the government were informed that this would be the case during the formation talks.

Can’t the government just give them a free vote on this Bill like it did with Mick Wallace’s?

Apparently not. Government sources said that Independent Alliance members were already given a free vote on that item and they will not be getting another.

During the summer, Health Minister Simon Harris said he expects all ministers to support the Government’s position on the eighth amendment.

He reiterated that the programme for government committed to the establishment of a Citizen’s Assembly to examine the issue and he did not think “it would be appropriate as a Government to be supporting any parallel or alternative process”.

However, sources say the crisis over Mick Wallace’s Bill could have been avoided had Fine Gael not made an issue out of allowing a free vote.

“They let it drift into a crisis, we don’t want it to go that way again,” said one source.

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