By Patrick Buckley, European Life Network
Editor’s note. “TDs” are members of the lower house of Parliament, the Dáil. Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil, and Fine Geal are political parties. By a free vote is meant the right of members to vote their consciences on abortion.
An opinion poll carried out by Amárach Research on behalf of the Life Institute and Family and Life shows that the vast majority of Irish voters believe Taoiseach [Prime Minister] Enda Kenny is wrong to try to force pro-life TDs and Senators to vote for his abortion legislation It also shows that 86 per cent of voters would prefer to see the abortion issue resolved by popular referendum than by the politicians in Leinster House [the seat of the national Parliament of Ireland]. A similar proportion believe that if legislators are to decide the issue they should be allowed a free vote.
Kenny has repeatedly insisted that his Fine Gael colleagues will not be allowed to vote according to their consciences. It is clear from the poll results that this autocratic style of leadership is not favoured by Fine Gael voters, among whom support for a free vote is exceptionally high at 74 per cent. Support for a free vote is strongest among Fianna Fáil voters at 85 per cent.
Niamh Ui Bhriain of the Life Institute said that the poll showed that TDs such as Peter Mathews were more in tune with the public mood than the Cabinet, and that the public did not agree with the bullying attitude of party leaders towards conscience-based objection to the legislation.
Mr Kenny, however, remains adamant that a three line whip will apply and that anyone who votes against the government will be expelled from the Fine Geal parliamentary party. Minister for Finance Michael Noonan said at the weekend, “We don’t give free votes and everybody, when they decided to become a Fine Gael candidate, signs a pledge that they will vote with the party and that’s our system.” He made no mention of the fact that before the last election Fine Gael candidates also pledged not to legislate for abortion.
The poll also found strong support for the idea of resolving the abortion issue by way of a referendum (86 per cent, excluding don’t knows). A new generation has grown up since the last abortion referendum, yet our focus groups revealed continuing interest and engagement in the issue among young people as well as old. Preference for a referendum is actually higher among under-35s (92 per cent) than over-35s (82 per cent). Women are more likely than men to prefer a referendum, and support is strongest among Fianna Fáil voters (90%).
When it comes to the issue of voting intentions, a substantial 58 percent of Fianna Fáil supporters say they would be less likely to support a TD in a future election who voted in favour of abortion in the Dáil division on the issue. For Fine Gael voters, a significant minority of 43pc of supporters said they would be less likely to support a candidate in favour of the legislation and 34pc of Sinn Féin voters agreed that they’d be less likely to support party TDs who back abortion. Just 16pc of Labour supporters and 29pc of Independent supporters said a candidates’ support for abortion would make them less likely to vote to re-elect that candidate.