Dáil gets to work to meet tight timeline for May referendum
The government's journey towards holding a referendum on abortion is almost complete as the Dáil debate gets under way this morning.
The Oireachtas Bills Office will this morning publish the referendum bill ahead of the start of the historic debate due to start at 10.30am and last until 4pm.
A special sitting of the Dáil has been arranged for today in order to facilitate the passage of the bill as most ministers will be abroad next week for global St Patrick's Day events.
It is hoped the debate will be completed at the next allocated time on Tuesday, March 20, when the Dáil is due to sit until midnight.
There is cross-party support for the debate to reach second stage as soon as possible, where it will then go to the Seanad for debate and a vote. Otherwise the timeframe of having a May referendum is too tight.
Cabinet unanimously agreed yesterday to insert into the Constitution the words "provision may be made by law for the regulation of termination of pregnancies" should the Eighth Amendment be repealed.
The Eighth Amendment, also known as Article 40.3.3 of the Constitution will then be deleted in full, should the referendum pass.
Health Minister Simon Harris will open this morning's discussion where he will outline the contents of the referendum bill.
Crucially, he will give details of 21 policies the Government plans to introduce if the public votes in favour of repealing the Eighth Amendment.
These include the policy of imposing a "consideration period" of around 48-72 hours for women before they can access abortion pills or an abortion service. The period will begin to elapse from when the woman first contacts her GP or health practitioner.
It will also confirm that any Irish doctor or medic will be given full rights to engage in conscientious objection and will not be forced to carry out a termination, or supply abortion pills.
"The women we are thinking of today, on International Women's Day, are the women who have courageously told personal, sensitive stories," said Mr Harris.
"Women like Amanda Mellot and Siobhan Whelan who felt like they needed to go to the United Nations to highlight how they had been treated.
"Women like Savita Halappanavar who never even got to tell her story in relation to her pregnancy.
"Women who've been raped and told they had to carry their pregnancy to full term."
Meanwhile, the Referendum Commission will be established by Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy today.
The Health Minister also announced the commission will be chaired by Justice Isobel Kennedy.