Kenny will not give timeframe for vote on abortion
Taoiseach Enda Kenny has flatly refused to fix a date for a referendum on abortion.
Mr Kenny has also strongly defended his decision to grant a free vote for Fine Gael TDs and senators on the issue. But he has also insisted that his decision to impose the party whip on abortion legislation in summer 2013 was correct, despite the loss of five TDs and two senators who quit the party at that time over the issue, including Lucinda Creighton who has established a new political party.
The Taoiseach has again reiterated his plan to establish "a citizen's forum" - much along the lines of the Constitutional Convention which met from 2012 to 2014 and paved the way for the referendum on same-sex marriage held last May. Mr Kenny said if his government is re-elected this forum would be set up within six months and given the remit of examining the Eight Amendment to the Constitution which was voted in September 1983.
The citizens' convention would be allowed to reflect on all aspects of what Mr Kenny said was a difficult and divisive issue. The issue would then be dealt with at length by a committee of TDs and senators like the 2013 Protection of Life in Pregnancy Bill was.
Mr Kenny was also emphatic in saying that the 'Right to Die' will not be examined by the convention or the Oireachtas - or considered at any level.
"This has been raised once or twice from a number of distressing deaths. We have had legal advice on that before. It is not constitutionally possible. It would probably require a referendum but it is not one I am considering now, though these are distressing cases that come to light as well," the Taoiseach said.
Mr Kenny was insistent that it was not possible to speculate on a date for the referendum on the Eighth Amendment. He said the citizens' convention and the work of TDs and senators would be focused on seeing if a common or agreed course of action could be identified.
"So I wouldn't like to put a time on it because you could become constrained by that fact but I think it is a question that needs to be reflected on and one I am not afraid to have reflected on either," Mr Kenny said.
The Taoiseach also argued that the 2013 legislation, which split the party and led to resignations, cannot be compared with the forthcoming consideration of the abortion issue and an expected referendum. He said the Protection of Life in Pregnancy Bill was a clarification of existing legislation and also a response to a binding European Court of Human Rights ruling.
"So this was not new legislation, it was clarifying what the law actually meant. In this case, with the Eighth Amendment, it was placed into the constitution by the people, and it can only be removed by the people. And in that sense it is a fresh issue for the Government to look at," Mr Kenny said.
Separately, Tánaiste Joan Burton has praised the work of the previous Constitutional Convention and suggested it could be deployed again to look at a broad swathe of issues. These could include people's economic rights and the role of women in the home.
Ms Burton said any discussion around the "end of life" could well take in the views expressed by the hospice movement which had heavily influenced her own views on the issue. "I would be very guided by that approach which is not to prolong life unnecessarily, but to provide pain relief and that's something in terms of care situations I have been personally involved in. I feel it is respectful of the person coming to the end of their life," she said.