HIGH-PROFILE Fianna Fáil figures in Cork have refused to back the position taken by Micheál Martin to widen access to abortion but said the issue will not threaten his leadership of the party.
Last week, Mr Martin announced in the Dáil that he was in favour of repealing the Eighth Amendment and allowing unrestricted access to abortion up to 12 weeks, a view that is believed to be out of step with his party, both in the Dáil and around the country.
Fianna Fáil’s finance spokesman Michael McGrath, Mr Martin’s constituency colleague in Cork South Central, said yesterday that he is in favour of holding a referendum, but is not in favour of the 12-week unrestricted period and wider access to abortion.
However, he said he has no issues with Mr Martin taking a stance.
“It shouldn’t be seen as a split in the party. We made the decision five years ago that everyone could use their conscience, and Micheál Martin is entitled to avail of that in the same way as any other TD or Senator,” he said.
Mr McGrath said that he has studied the report of the Oireachtas Committee on the Eighth Amendment and feels that its recommendations are “a step too far.”
However, he will not be attending a meeting of pro-life Fianna Fáil TDs today. Carlow-Kilkenny TD Bobby Aylward organised the meeting in reaction to Mr Martin’s stance. Separately, a member of the party set up an online petition calling for Mr Martin’s resignation as leader, which was signed by more than 300 people.
Cllr Terry Shannon, a close colleague of Mr Martin, said that he is pro-life and does not want to see “abortion on demand” introduced if the Eighth Amendment is repealed, but insisted that he accepted Mr Martin’s view, saying he “democratised” the party.
“When you give people a vote of conscience, you can’t have it for everyone and not the leader,” he said.
He has discussed Eighth Amendment directly with Mr Martin since his speech and said that, while he appreciates his view, he himself will remain against abortion in cases other than fatal foetal abnormality.
“We are at a stage in Fianna Fáil where you can disagree with the leader and it’s not a resignation issue,” he said.
He appreciates Mr Martin did not politicise the issue and said Fianna Fáil should not be concerned about how it affects their votes.
“We will lose votes on one side, but we might gain votes on the other, but it is not about votes in this instance,” he said.
Cllr Fergal Dennehy, who is based in Mr Martin’s constituency, said there is “no war” in the party over the leader’s speech. “We all have our own opinions. I may not agree with him, but he’s entitled to his opinion,” he said.