Fine Gael expels four TDs for voting against abortion Bill

Mathews, Timmins, Walsh and Flanagan told to vacate offices in party’s section of Leinster House

Fine Gael has removed four rebel TDs from the party after they defied Taoiseach Enda Kenny to vote against the abortion legislation.

Steps were also under way last night to remove the four – Peter Mathews, Billy Timmins, Brian Walsh and Terence Flanagan – from the Oireachtas committees on which they sit. They must also vacate their offices in Fine Gael areas of Leinster House.

The TDs’ rejection of the legislation marks the biggest challenge to the Taoiseach’s authority since he took power in 2011. The position of several other TDs and Senators remains in doubt.

Mr Kenny’s spokesman had no comment on the actions of the four TDs, which came as the legislation passed its first Dáil reading by a margin of 138 to 24.


“The Government position has been outlined very clearly. The consequences of voting against the Government are clear,” the Taoiseach’s spokesman said.

In Fianna Fáil, 13 of the party's 19 TDs voted against the legislation even though their party leader Micheál Martin supported it. Strong resistance to the proposal within the party led Mr Martin to grant a free vote on the Protection of Life during Pregnancy Bill.

Chief whip's letter
In the hour after the Fine Gael rebels rejected the Bill, Government chief whip Paul Kehoe wrote to them saying they were in breach of the Fine Gael code of conduct and their pledge to vote with the party.

The Bill was then put before the health committee, which can accept amendments to the legislation, ahead of a further vote early next week. However, Mr Kenny has signalled he will not remove the suicide clause or dilute other substantive elements of the Bill.

Five other TDs who have difficulty with the Government proposal, among them Minister of State Lucinda Creighton, voted for the legislation yesterday. The other TDs with doubts are Michelle Mulherin, John O'Mahony, John Paul Phelan and James Bannon.

They are seen to be awaiting the final version of the legislation before deciding whether to definitively reject or accept it.

Mr Kehoe said in letters to the four rebels that their failure to accept the party whip meant that the rule in the Fine Gael constitution that provides for the automatic loss of the whip was being applied forthwith.

Committee replacements
The chief whip also circulated a notice of motion to TDs calling for the discharge of Mr Mathews and Mr Timmins from the finance committee and their replacement by Deputies Regina Doherty and Paschal Donohoe.

Moves to take Mr Walsh and Mr Flanagan off the transport committee are imminent, it is understood.

“I’m disappointed from the point of view that we didn’t ever fight any election campaign on the basis that we would do this,” said Mr Timmins. “It wasn’t in the programme for government.”

Any TD who loses the whip must reapply to their local branch it they wish to run again for election and the final decision lies with the Fine Gael national executive.

However, Mr Walsh said he wished to run again for the party. “I’m happy I did the right thing. It’s not the most popular thing,” he said.

Arthur Beesley

Arthur Beesley

Arthur Beesley is Current Affairs Editor of The Irish Times