Abortion legislation: Enda Kenny has much to learn about party management when in government…

One of the tricks of remaining in government under the STV PR system (only used in Ireland and Malta national parliaments) is not a applying the party whip too hard across the board… ‘Gene pool Fianna Fail’ is a term that once rolled off the RTE tongue to describe those who’d lost the party whip but who rowed generally in the same direction…

One of the shocking effects of seeing what happened in Fianna Fail when unburdened by the party whip was just how many decided to vote against the attempt to legislate for the X case:

  1. Michael McGrath (Cork South Central)
  2. John McGuinness (Carlow-Kilkenny)
  3. Seamus Kirk (Louth)
  4. Dara Calleary (Mayo)
  5. John Browne (Wexford)
  6. Éamon Ó Cuiv (Galway West)
  7. Charlie McConalogue (Donegal North East),
  8. Brendan Smith (Cavan Monaghan)
  9. Sean Ó Fearghail (Kildare South)
  10. Willie O’Dea (Limerick)
  11. Robert Troy (Longford-Westmeath)
  12. Michael Kitt (Galway East)
  13. Seán Fleming (Laois Offaly)

That’s a fair whack of the parliamentary party. And, given most are out in the country, it probably reflects the kind of conservative religious sentiment locked away inside a large part of Enda Kenny’s otherwise loyal Fine Gael parliamentary contingent.

Now consider the Taoiseach’s blunt warning that anyone defying the government line on this issue will not be selected for the party, and you can understand the media speculation over the weekend as to the possible emergence of an Independent Fine Gael camp in the Dail after the rebels vote against the party line.

In many cases these are people who, like Sinn Fein’s Peadar Toibin, this is a transparent issue of conscience. They consider themselves to be Catholic and bound by church’s negative ruling on the matter.


After a conversation with Deputy Toibin he’s made it clear his objections are secular and he feels that all debate ought to remain strictly secular.

Others are undoubtedly influenced by a fierce and incessant pro Life campaign that leaves no stone unturned in changing the minds of individual TDs, via family, friends, sports club membership.

For 87 years, Fianna Fail did not do free votes in the Dail. Not any more. Martin could not take the party over the line and decided discretion was the better part of valour. Sinn Fein with a smaller southern party and considerably more central control have decided to roll in behind Fine Gael and Labour.

Fine Gael (much as Labour which already has a sizeable rump of TDs who are members, but now unwhipped in the Dail) may take comfort from the huge numbers they have in the houses of the Oireachtas to get this legislation across the line.

But it would be a mistake for Kenny loyalists to allow themselves to believe that they are in a position analogous to Fianna Fail of the 1980s, when the boss, was the boss, and the party spoke with his voice and his voice only.

Of course Kenny is in a different position to any of the opposition parties. His Health Minister has promised his government would be the first government in six to tackle this issue decisively, once and for all.

The party’s front bench contains some major young talent. But carting some of the brightest overboard on a point of principle by threatening to deselect them rather than  playing it looser or playing for time (such as SF’s tacit deferral to its own party machine).

It seems both Labour and Fine Gael have a thing or two about party management in that toughest of times for all parliamentary parties, being in government.

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