Divisive row breaks out at cross-party committee on abortion as Coppinger labels Fianna Fáil 'dinosaurs'

A divisive row has broken out at the cross-party committee examining Ireland's abortion laws after Fianna Fáil was accused by Ruth Coppinger of being "dinosaurs" after an ard fhéis vote opposing any change to the eighth amendment, writes Fiachra O'Cionnaith.

Rhe claim was made after Ms Coppinger and Sinn Féin members Louise O'Reilly, Jonathan O'Brien and Paul Gavan called for an early vote in the committee on the issue on Wednesday afternoon, despite Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael saying no vote should be held yet.

As reported in Monday's Irish Examiner eight pro-choice committee members have sent motions to chair and Fine Gael senator Catherine Noone seeking a vote on the issue on Wednesday evening.

The eight members - Ms Coppinger, Lynn Ruane, Jan O'Sullivan, Catherine Murphy, Louise O'Reily, Paul Gavan, Jonathan O'Brien and Clare Daly - said in separate motions this is because a vote should be taken at the end of each of the committee's three modules, the first of which ends on Wednesday afternoon.

The position is contradicted by a number of other committee members, including Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil TDs, who believe no vote should be taken until after all witnesses have been heard, and until draft legislation is available to examine.

The issue was discussed in detail during a three hour meeting of the committee on Tuesday night with no decision taken on whether to hold a vote or not on Wednesday.

In a letter to Ms Noone on Wednesday morning, Fianna Fáil health spokesperson and committee member Billy Kelleher formally repeated his remarks at Tuesday's private meeting, saying no vote should take place until after all evidence has been heard and until draft legislation is available.

Specifically, he said: "I write to request any vote in relation to module 1 will take place no earlier than the completion of module 2."

However, in a statement lashing out at the position, Solidarity-People Before Profit TD Ruth Coppinger said there should be no delay, and said in separate comments that Fianna Fáil's non-binding ard fhéis decision to oppose any changes to the eighth amendment mean the party as a whole are "dinosaurs".

"It seems an attempt may be made today at the Oireachtas committee to postpone a vote to recommend a referendum to repeal the eighth amendment.

"Some Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil members have stated they’ve a problem with the previous decision of the committee that it would vote on referendum proposals at the end of that particular module of discussions. Apparently, some members wanted to hear all the evidence on everything before voting on anything.

"I fear what we are about to witness is the two big parties operate to ditch key recommendations of the Citizens Assembly on abortion — as putting off a vote on repeal makes no logical sense otherwise," she said.

The view was repeated in a statement from Sinn Féin this afternoon, with the party saying it is "calling on members to support our motion today".

A number of sources on the committee seeking a vote today said this is allowed under an agreement during a July 11 pre-meeting of the committee which said a decision should be made at the end of every module on how to progress further.

One source said: "There was an agreement that we would deal with each module before moving onto the next, so yes if a vote was called on a module it would be dealt with before moving on," adding "there was an agreement to conclude each module including a vote".

However, a Fine Gael source opposing a vote today said: "We agreed we would vote when the committee agreed they were read to. We may have votes as we go, or at the end of the process. There was no formal process outlined when it came to voting."


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