Monday 22 July 2019

Final Results

Repeal the Eighth Amendment?

Yes 66.40% 1,429,981

No 33.60% 723,632

  • Constituencies declared: 40/40

Referendum Hub

Leo will struggle to split repeal from issue of 12 weeks

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar (Brian Lawless/PA)
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar (Brian Lawless/PA)
John Downing

John Downing

Leo Varadkar's "split decision" strategy on the abortion issue will be sorely tested in four months ahead of the referendum expected in May.

The core issue remains that the prospect of unlimited abortion access up to 12 weeks, brought in via parallel legislation, will be a big factor in the referendum debate.

Right now, five of the Taoiseach's full ministerial team appear at best "very doubtful" on the issue of 12 weeks. One of that quintet happens to be Mr Varadkar's Tánaiste, Simon Coveney who, extraordinarily, is taking a stance rather like that of Sinn Féin for the moment.

Three of the others are Fine Gael heavy-hitters, Agriculture Minister Michael Creed, Rural Development Minister Michael Ring, and Enterprise Minister Heather Humphreys.

The fourth is a former, and to some perhaps future, Fine Gael member, Communications Minister Denis Naughten.

It will be very interesting to hear Simon Coveney explain his contradictory approach to the two intertwined issues in more detail. Mr Coveney says he is in favour of repealing the Eighth Amendment of 1983, which guarantees equal rights to the life of the expectant mother and the foetus she is carrying.

But Mr Coveney is decidedly against permitting unlimited abortion access up to 12 weeks. Voters will strain to understand how these viewpoints can stand side by side.

But that juxtaposition is also central to the Taoiseach's attempts to minimise the appearance of division within his Government team on this most divisive of issues all across the world.

As this one progresses, we can see more and more the wisdom of the two big parties, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, in permitting a free vote.

But that free vote does not solve all the problems facing Mr Varadkar in trying to successfully find a resolution to the 35-year-old national abortion dilemma without up to one third of his Cabinet team.

Read More: More Fine Gael TDs row in behind Coveney's 'fudge'

Mr Varadkar does need to bring home this referendum and put himself up there as the one who resolved the dilemma of a generation. Failure to do so could be harmful.

As one shrewd Fine Gael TD summed up: "This one is probably not a vote-getter - but it could be a vote-loser."

On Monday night, and again in the Dáil yesterday, Mr Varadkar was struggling to split the 'repeal' campaign from the parallel '12-week law'. Right now, this does not look feasible.

All early signs are that those seeking to defeat the upcoming referendum will put a big focus on the 12-week legislation in efforts to sow widespread doubt.

Referendums are lost on successfully evoking enough doubt to depress turn-out, and also play up the dreaded maxim: "If in doubt, leave it out."

Right now, a reasonable guesstimate of the TDs line-up is 65 against 12 weeks, 48 in favour, and 45 undecided. The project is finely poised.

Irish Independent

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