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The Cabinet is meeting this morning to discuss its response to a Bill allowing for abortions in the cases of fatal foetal abnormalities.
To date the Government has been unable to reach an agreed position on the issue and as a result, it is expected that Taoiseach Enda Kenny will allow Independent Ministers a free vote.
Speaking at the North-South Ministerial Council meeting in Dublin yesterday, the Taoiseach said he could not force the Independent members of Cabinet to vote a certain way.
Mr Kenny said: “There are five members of the Cabinet who are not members of my own party so therefore they are not subject to any whipping arrangements in this regard.”
However, all Ministers and Ministers of State agreed to collective Cabinet responsibility in response to any Opposition Private Members’ Bills or motions.
Minister for Transport Shane Ross, Minister of State at the Department of Health Finian McGrath and Minister of State at the Department of Jobs John Halligan have all confirmed they will vote in favour of the legislation proposed by Independents4Change TD Mick Wallace.
This is despite the Attorney General Máire Whelan insisting it contravenes article 43.3 of the Constitution, which places the life of the unborn on an equal footing with the life of the mother.
Mr Ross said the Bill could be declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court only.
He said: “I don’t see this is as an issue of defying anyone. It is not binding us in the programme for government. I believe there are issues when collective Cabinet responsibility is important, but not on this issue.”
Mr Kenny had resisted calls for a vote of conscience insisting the Government had committed to addressing this issue in the programme for government.
Minister for Social Protection Leo Varadkar said the decision could set a dangerous precedent.
He said it was right to be compassionate but it was wrong to be false, insisting Mr Wallace’s Bill would not solve the dilemma many women faced.
“I don’t see any reason to vote for a law that is unconstitutional because it can never become law or change anything for anyone,” Mr Varadkar said.
“It potentially sets a difficult precedent for ministers down the line, particularly Independent ministers, there are times you can’t do things because it’s against legal advice and if you’re willing to disregard the advice of the Attorney General on one thing, inevitably you’ll come under pressure on a plethora of things to do the same. I think that will make their job as Independents hard,” Mr Varadkar added.
Mr Varadkar and Minister for Finance Michael Noonan both downplayed the decision to allow the Independent members of government a free vote yesterday.
The Cabinet is also discussing a plan to help those in mortgage arrears.
Another item in the agenda is an ownership model for the State’s €500 million subsidised rural broadband network.
Separately, Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald is to seek Cabinet approval today for new legislation to allow gardaí to intercept the emails and social media accounts of criminal suspects.
Ms Fitzgerald is expected to request consent to make a number of announcements in the area of organised crime.
The Minister for Justice is to update and expand two outstanding Acts to give the Garda new powers.