Byline: Senan Molony Political Editor
A SENIOR minister has warned the head of the Catholic Church in Ireland not to 'dictate' how TDs should vote on the abortion question.
Pat Rabbitte spoke out after Cardinal Sean Brady promised an all-out assault to counter any attempt to allow terminations. This would include putting pressure on deputies, a media campaign and even a pastoral letter, he said.
And while the Government is expected to legislate on abortion following a 2010 European Court of Human Rights ruling, the Primate of All-Ireland instead wants a referendum to toughen up the Constitution's pro-life stance.
The Communications Minister, however, warned yesterday: 'I think it would be a retrograde step if we were to go back to the days of the Catholic Church dictating to elected public representatives how they should address an issue that a very large section of society believes that governments in the past ought already to have addressed.'
In an RTE interview, Cardinal Brady had said: 'We would want to inform people of the ills of abortion, not in any sense of laying down the law or wanting to hurt people, but to open people's eyes to the ills of abortion and to respect life.
'We would have a media campaign, we would be lobbying public representatives, and also I would hope to write a pastoral letter on this situation, setting forth the argument which we have always held and providing resources to priests to preach on this topic in the pulpit.'
Mr Rabbitte responded: 'I don't welcome the Cardinal promising to engage in the political campaign. I have no objection to the Cardinal setting down his view, but I think we have reached a stage in this country where we acknowledge the role of the different faiths in our society, but there ought to be separation between Church and State.'
The question of abortion is set to return to the top of the agenda next month when an expert group of 14 specialists reports on the options available to the Cabinet following the 2010 ECHR ruling on the C Case. This stated that an Irish citizen who had a rare cancer and feared a relapse when she became unintentionally pregnant had her rights infringed because she was unable to establish whether she qualified for a lawful abortion here.
In April, Socialist TD Clare Daly tabled a private member's motion to allow for abortion in cases where the mother's life is at risk, in keeping with the earlier X Case ruling. Health Minister James Reilly promised the Government would not ignore that 1992 Supreme Court decision, a stance that led to a significant backbench rebellion in Fine Gael.