Cabinet approves Eighth Amendment referendum bill

Updated / Friday, 9 Mar 2018 09:52

Simon Harris said the Government wants to give people their say

Minister for Health Simon Harris has confirmed that the Cabinet has approved the bill that will allow for the holding of a Referendum on the Eighth Amendment.

It is in keeping with the draft legislation published a fortnight ago.

Speaking outside Government Buildings, he said it was appropriate that this decision was taken on International Women’s Day.

The minister said his message was that repeal was necessary to deliver change and he said he would campaign vigorously.

Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan, Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Regina Doherty, Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Josepha Madigan and Minister for Education and Skills Richard Bruton also said they would campaign for repeal.

Minister Harris said there is an onus on all parties to progress the bill through the Dáil and Seanad to ensure there is a May referendum.

The bill sets out the choice facing voters voters and will ask people to either retain the Eighth Amendment or delete it from the Constitution and insert the following wording: "That provision may be made by law for the regulation of termination of pregnancy."

It has been confirmed that Ms Justice Isobel Kennedy will chair the Referendum Commission.

Read more:
Unborn 'does not have' inherent constitutional rights
Eighth Amendment referendum: What happens next?

There are also indications that the 36th Amendment of the Constitution Bill 2018, which allows for a referendum to take place, will not be published until tomorrow.

A Government spokesperson said the publication is a matter for the Oireachtas Bills Office but it is unlikely to happen until then.

The Dáil is to sit tomorrow from 10.30am until 4pm to debate the referendum bill.

The business committee has also decided the Dáil will return a day earlier on Tuesday 20 March following the St Patrick's Day break to discuss the bill.

It will sit until midnight that day if required to allow the bill pass second stage.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said: "On my first day as Taoiseach I committed to holding a referendum this year. The matter has been considered by the Citizens' Assembly and a cross-party Oireachtas committee.

"The Cabinet has now taken the next important step which paves the way to holding a referendum in the summer.

"This referendum is about asking our citizens to allow women to make major decisions for themselves.

"It's about trusting women to decide, in the early weeks of their pregnancy, what's right for them and their families. And it's about trusting our doctors to decide when continuing with a pregnancy is a risk to the life or health of a woman.

"Above all it's about trusting Irish people to consider this matter in depth, with compassion and empathy, as I know they will." 

Tánaiste Simon Coveney said the Government is determined to stick to a deadline of holding a referendum in late May.

Speaking in the Dail, he said: "The Government has made a clear decision, with unanimous support across Government, to bring forward legislation to remove the Eighth Amendment from the Constitution and is determined to stick to a timeline to actually provide for the opportunity to do that in late May."

He said that he looked forward to the debates that will take place, adding, that the Government intended to make enough time available to allow everyone who wanted to speak on the issue and the debate on the relevant legislation would begin tomorrow.

Mr Coveney said he understood the debate would then recommence on 20 March, a day earlier than planned, subject to the agreement of the Oireachtas Business Committee.

Meanwhile, a barrister has said the crucial aspect of yesterday's Supreme Court finding is that the only place the unborn has any protection under the Constitution is under the Eighth Amendment.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Paul Anthony McDermott said that "the only right it talks about is the right to life, which is subject to the right to life of the mother as well."

He added: "What the Supreme Court has said in a nutshell is that other than the right to life, all your constitutional rights start at birth.

"If a baby is born at the Coombe or Holles Street, it gains its Constitutional rights at the first cry, but not before then."

He said one of the big arguments in this debate was the idea of "natural law", that regardless of what the Constitution said, there are some basic things that are always true.

He said that the Supreme Court rejected this and said what the Constitution says is the law and no more.

Students urge Govt to stick to schedule

The Union of Students in Ireland has urged the Government to stick to its May timeline for the referendum to enable as many students as possible to vote.

Hundreds of students staged a rally in Trinity College Dublin this afternoon, ahead of joining up with a larger pro-repeal march in the city centre. 

The USI expressed fears that a delay in voting on the wording of the referendum this week could see the referendum delayed to June. 

Speaking ahead of the rally, USI President Michael Kerrigan said that a May referendum is essential to ensure thousands of students sitting State examinations could vote, as well as students who would leave on J1 visas for the summer.

The marchers made their way down O'Connell Street before meeting at the Custom House, where several speakers are due to address the crowd.

Organisers say between 5,000 and 6,000 people attended the march. Gardaí declined to estimate the size of the crowd.

Organisers say other marches are taking place in Belfast, Cork, Galway and Leitrim, and other locations around the country.

Sinn Féin may hold Ard Fheis on abortion

The Sinn Féin President has said while her party will be holding an ard fheis to discuss legislation around abortion, she has not confirmed that it will take place prior to the referendum.

Mary Lou McDonald said there are logistical issues around organising an ard fheis and she could not confirm whether or not it would take place before late May.

Speaking to members of the media outside Leinster House, she said: "Whether it happens before the referendum or not we will be campaigning for repeal."

Sinn Féin supports repeal of the Eighth Amendment and legislation that allows abortion in certain circumstances, such as when a woman's life or health is at risk, in instances of rape and incest.

Speaking later on RTÉ’s Drivetime, she said there are people in Sinn Féin who hold different views to the party position and that all views should be respected.

However, she said that on matters of public policy, "you don't duck and dive", saying members will not be entitled to a free vote at the ard fheis.

Additional reporting: Stephen Murphy, Edel McAllister, Ailbhe Conneely and Martina Fitzgerald