Taoiseach gives Independent members of the Cabinet a free vote on the Mick Wallace abortion bill

The Social Protection Minister says it would be a 'difficult precedent' if Independent ministers voted against the Government on abortion legislation

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Updated: 14.35

The Taoiseach has effectively given the Independent embers of the Cabinet a free vote on the Mick Wallace abortion bill.

A number of members of the Independent Alliance had insisted they would vote in favour of allowing terminations in the cases of fatal foetal abnormality when the legislation is voted on next Thursday.

That's despite the Attorney General ruling that the legislation is unconstitutional.

Speaking at the end of the North South Ministerial Council meeting in Dublin, Enda Kenny effectively said collective responsibility of Cabinet would not apply:

The Social Protection Minister says it would be a 'difficult precedent' if Independent ministers voted against the Government on abortion legislation.

Leo Varadkar was responding to his cabinet colleague Shane Ross, who says he will vote in favour of Mick Wallace's bill on fatal foetal abnormalities on Thursday.

The stance of the Independent Alliance TD and Transport Minister puts him at odds with the Taoiseach, who says the bill must be voted down as the Attorney General has ruled that it unconstitutional.

However, Minister Varadkar says that Independents voting against the Government now will only make it more difficult for other ministers in future.

"There are times, as a minister, when you just can't do things because they're against legal advice or are unconstitutional," he said.

"If you're willing to disregard or go against the advice of the Attorney General [...] on one thing, inevitably you'll come under pressure on a plethora of things to do the same."

Minister of State John Halligan, who is a member of the Independent Alliance, says he hopes the issue will be viewed as a vote of conscience.

While he would not be drawn on how he would vote, Junior Minister Halligan told Newstalk Lunchtime: "We signed up to support the Programme for Government, which we will do in honour, on votes of confidence, which we will do in honour, and on budgets, which we will do in honour. 

"This is not in the Programme for Government. Other parties in the Dáil are offering a free vote. It's up to Fine Gael not to want to offer a free vote - but we are the Independent Alliance, and we are not members of Fine Gael".

He also said that speaking to women who had gone through fatal foetal abnormalities were "the people who had the most effect on me".

The Dáil debated the Bill last week, and are due to vote on it in the coming days.

The vote comes ahead of a Citizens' Assembly that is due to discuss the issue of the 8th Amendment in the autumn.

The Health Minister confirmed yesterday that it is now hoped the assembly will commence before the previously planned start date of November.

Minister Simon Harris says that while he wants to see the issue of terminations in the cases fatal foetal abnormalities dealt with, the 8th Amendment prevents him from doing so.