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Several Irish Government TD’s have voiced their concerns over not being permitted to exercise a ‘free vote’, and make their decision on the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill 2013, with their conscience on ethical and moral grounds. The issue of conscientious objection is a very interesting issue in all of this debate, Irish politics and political parties self enforce a strict three line party whip that takes no prisoners, go against the parties policy stance and you will be expelled from the parliamentary party. In recent weeks Irish political commentators and journalists have argued that the whip system cannot be changed, as it would make the business of politics, governance and the passing of legislation in the Houses of the Oireachtas impossible. This is simply not true, in Britain, the same system exists as it does in Ireland, however they implement the single and two line whip as well as the three line whip, whereas we do not, even though there is a provision for it for political parties in the Houses of the Oireachtas, it is not enforced. The three line whip logically should be applied to votes on finance bills, key issues and matters of national interest, however when it comes to matters of conscientious objection a free vote should be permitted under the provision of the single line whip (A single-line whip is a guide to what the party’s policy would indicate, and notification of when the vote is expected to take place; this is non-binding for attendance or voting). Recently in Britain well over one hundred Tory MP’s voted against their leader David Cameron during a debate on Gay Marriage, and last year ninety one Conservatives opposed their Prime Minister on a vote to reform the House of Lords, none of the dissenters were expelled from the parliamentary party over their conscientious objection to these proposals. The Taoiseach, Enda Kenny has the power to let his own deputy’s vote in this manner if he decides to do so, and those like deputy Peter Matthews and Minister for Europe, Lucinda Creighton, who have openly voiced their concerns on this matter are entitled to lobby him for the right to vote according to their conscience.
NOTE: In the early hours of last Thursday week, the long awaited Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill 2013 was published, even though the contents of much of it were well known throughout the day and days leading up to the draft bill appearing on the Department of Health’s website. The three main criteria in the bill in which it is legally permissible to carry out a ‘medical procedure’ are, as outlined in section 7, Risk of loss of life from physical illness, section 8, Risk of loss of life from physical illness in emergency and section 9, Risk of loss of life from suicide.
Article by John J. O’Donovan (c)