Concern in Fine Gael has forced Taoiseach Enda Kenny to delay a Cabinet decision on whether to hold a referendum on extending marriage rights to same-sex couples.
Mr Kenny pushed the decision back to next week’s Cabinet as he sought to shore up support for the move among Fine Gael backbenchers shaken by the rifts caused by the X Case legislation.
The Taoiseach is to launch a telephone diplomacy effort to assure his party’s TDs that they are not being railroaded into a referendum by Labour.
He has particular concerns about six TDs who have serious reservations about the referendum move, and a senior party source said: “There is no harm for Fine Gael to see the Taoiseach halting Gilmore’s gallop on this for a week.”
With the date for a referendum still to be ironed out, Labour TDs are keen for new legislation on parenting and adoptive rights to be pushed through quickly by Justice Minister Alan Shatter as they fear anti-gay marriage campaigners would use that issue to “hijack” the focus of a constitutional poll on marriage equality.
Mr Gilmore is keen for the reforms regarding adoption by same-sex couples to be passed by the Dáil before a referendum and has shifted his call for a vote to be held next year to early 2015 as a result.
The Taoiseach, who again refused to say whether he was in favour of or opposed to gay marriage, denied that his party was split on the issue.
“I have made it clear that the party that I lead was the party that introduced the civil registration facility as a major piece of progress for gay people,” said Mr Kenny.
Unease among Fine Gael TDs over a gay marriage referendum has heightened after the divisions triggered by legislating for the X Case which saw five TDs and two Senators expelled from its parliamentary ranks.
Ruairi Quinn, the Labour Education Minister, has stated he believed there would be a referendum on same sex-marriage in early 2015.
The constitutional convention decided by a margin of four to one that such a referendum should be held.
Labour had expected the Cabinet to back the move yesterday, but leave the issue of a choice between holding it in October next year, or Mar 2015, until the spring.
Mr Gilmore has stacked a lot of his political credibility on pushing through a gay marriage referendum as soon as possible after he branded it the “civil rights issue of this generation”.
Labour sources said they were confident Cabinet would agree the move next week after Mr Kenny was given time to try and bring more of his backbenchers on board on the issue.