Another front has now emerged in the battle against Enda Kenny’s forces which just 24 hours ago seemed unstoppable. In a dramatic twist in the battle to prevent the introduction of abortion services to Ireland, a cross-party group of dissident Fine Gael, Labour and independent TDs and senators are proposing to invoke a little-known constitutional provision to force a referendum on the Government’s proposed legislation.
This is reported in the Irish Independent today. The paper’s political editor, John Drennan reports rebel Labour member of parliament and party chairman, Colm Keavney, who lost the party whip for dissent on another issue several months ago, as saying “This is a politically neutral initiative involving pro-life, pro-choice and non-committed figures. It is about those who are concerned about the escalating democratic deficit in the country.”
Drennan says that the petitioners are confident of securing a majority of the Seanad; however, the Dail is somewhat more problematic given the divided state of the opposition. The Sunday Independent has been told, however, that while “it will be difficult, it is achievable”.
The proposal is somewhat complex. Keaveney has pointed pointed out that the article in the Irish Constitution on which the initiative would be based, Article 27, would not provide a Constitutional referendum on abortion as such. In fact, it can only be applied to a Bill that does not contain a proposal for the amendment of the Constitution.
For the provision to be successful, a majority of sitting Senators (30) and at least one-third of the members of Dáil Eireann (55) are required to sign a petition, addressed to the President within days of the Bill being passed through the Dáil. The petition will ask Michael D Higgins not to sign the Bill into law until a referendum has been held. The referendum would not be about abortion services directly, but would ask if people wanted the Bill to be enacted or not. The process has never been used and the government has plans to scrap it altogether.
In a comment piece in the paper Drennan forsees troubled water ahead for Kenny in his own party and seems to see an inevitable fading of Kenny’s support if he forces reluctant members of parliament through the “yes” lobby to vote on this legislation. Drennan paraphrases another former Irish Taoiseach, Garret FitzGerald, speaking of a similar scenario: heavy indeed will be the hearts and even more reluctant still will be the steps of those who will be dragooned through the Yes lobby.
“They will vote “Ta” but not in spirit and they will resent Enda for it and the Taoiseach will have little to offer them in the way of worldly rewards to ease their pain. Ultimately, the most dangerous faction of all, if they stay, is the rogue white elephant of Enda’s embittered senators.” Kenny is proposing to abolish the Senate, the second house of the Irish parliament.
And, ironically, Drennan adds, whilst self preservation is Enda’s only core value, everything Enda is now doing to secure his power base only causes it to crumble a little further. The Taoiseach has carefully constructed a ‘chairman of the board’-style nodding, winking, broth of a cheery Western playboy political front. It took a while but Enda’s theatre of illusions is starting to fracture.