Brian Walsh has become the third member of the Fine Gael Parliamentary Party and the second Galway West politician to declare he will vote against the forthcoming Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill.
Dep Walsh, TD for Galway West, and the leading Fine Gael politician in the constituency, had already signalled his intent to vote against the Bill, citing the inclusion of the suicide ideation as the reason for his opposition.
However he made his position official this week by informing An Taoiseach Enda Kenny he would be voting against the Government. Yesterday he emailed his parliamentary party colleagues, saying he regretted if his decision “has the unintended effect of placing you under additional pressures from some of your constituents”.
Dep Walsh now joins Dublin South TD Peter Matthews and Galway West Senator Fidelma Healy Eames in publicly declaring opposition to the Bill.
The second stage of the Bill will begin being debated in the Dáil tomorrow with a final vote to be held on either July 11 or 18. By voting against it, the two TDs and the senator will lose their membership of the parliamentary party.
Speaking to the Galway Advertiser, Dep Walsh said he understood this “could signal the end of my political career”, but that he was taking a “principled stand”.
“I made a promise to the people of Galway that I could not support the introduction of abortion and I am standing by that,” he said. “I know this will not be a popular decision. The recent Irish Times poll shows 75 per cent are in favour of the Bill, but I have to do what I think is right.”
Dep Walsh said there were many aspects of the Bill that he welcomed and supported.
“I believe this Bill supersedes the 1861 Act which threatened criminal charges against doctors who carry out abortions and the women who had them,” he said. “I believe the mother’s life is paramount and I welcome the fact that gives clarity to medics and to women that abortions are permissible where there is a threat to the physical life of the mother.”
Dep Walsh said he could not support Section 9 of the Bill which includes the contentious suicide ideation clause.
“All the medical evidence presented to the Oireachtas hearings, particularly by psychiatrists, suggesting that abortion isn’t an appropriate treatment for suicide has been ignored,” he said. “The Bill will also potentially expose children on the cusp of viability to abortion given the long term times allowed.
“There is also the risk that abortion can affect a woman’s mental health negatively and also this could become a stepping stone to a more liberal abortion regime.”
Despite widespread misgivings about aspects of the Bill among as many as 25 to 30 members of the FGPP, Dep Walsh’s breaking ranks comes as the greater surprise given he has been very loyal to the Taoiseach and was highly favoured by the party HQ.
Although Enda Kenny has stated no free vote will be allowed, Dep Walsh still hopes such a vote will be possible.
“As many as 10 TDs could vote against the Bill and I don’t think the Taoiseach would want to remove the whip from all of them,” said Dep Walsh. “I think the numbers could make him reconsider. The Bill will also be reviewed after a year and that tells me that even the Government have misgivings about it.”
Nonetheless Dep Walsh understands that voting against the Bill will see him out of the parliamentary party and perhaps even out of FG.
“This could spell the end,” he said, “but politics is my career and I intend to be around for a long time, either inside or outside the party.”
His constituency colleague Sen Fidelma Healy Eames came out against the Bill last Sunday. She shares with Dep Walsh an opposition to the suicide clause and fears that the Bill will lead to a more liberal abortion regime in the State.
“I cannot stand over a Bill that will make it legal to intentionally destroy unborn human life where there isn’t a shred of medical evidence to justify it,” she said. “If I thought there was any evidence at all that a suicidal pregnant woman’s life could be saved by ending her pregnancy, then I would be voting for this Bill. That evidence, despite two sets of consultations with expert psychiatrists, was simply not forthcoming.”
She said that “women’s lives should be protected” and that the “duty of care towards the unborn child should also remain.