Thursday 22 February 2018

Pressure mounting on Tanáiste to explain Eighth 'contradiction' which colleagues say is 'muddying the waters'

Simon Coveney. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Simon Coveney. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

Pressure is mounting on Tánaiste Simon Coveney to explain how he can support repeal of the Eighth Amendment but not the subsequent legislation.

If the Eighth Amendment is removed from the Constitution, the Government has indicated it will legalise abortion on demand up to 12 weeks.

Mr Coveney has indicated he favours the first element of the plan but would vote against unrestricted access to terminations.

A number of Fine Gael TDs, including a minister, have privately told the Irish Independent they believe this is muddying the waters.

"How does this fudge work? He is telling people 'I don't support this change but vote yes'," asked the minister.

Politicians on both sides of the debate also criticised the ambiguity in Mr Coveney's stance.

Labour senator Kevin Humphreys, who will be campaigning for repeal, said: "Asking people to repeal the Eighth Amendment but not accepting that will lead to abortion up to 12 weeks doesn't make sense.

"This approach will confuse the electorate on what for many people is already a very difficult topic.

"Simon Coveney is trying to have it both ways when he should be showing leadership," he said.

Sinn Féin's Peadar Tóibín, who is pro-life, tweeted: "Saying you oppose unrestricted abortion of an unborn child at 12 weeks development and then voting for repeal of the constitutional right to life of that child is an act of complete contradiction."

Position

Mr Tóibín faces the prospect of losing his party whip because he is refusing to adopt the official Sinn Féin stance which favours repeal.

Mr Coveney was in London yesterday where he took part in a series of Brexit-related meetings, including one with UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson.

However, he is expected to outline his full position in the coming days. Asked about the Tánaiste's decision to go against what will be the formal Government line on the referendum, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said he respects and understands why people have concerns about the idea of unrestricted abortion up to 12 weeks.

"I had those reservations myself at first until I read the reasoning behind it. Having read the reasoning behind it, it's something I strongly support and strongly endorse," he said.

"But we need to be very frank with people about this. There isn't going to be certainty or absolute certainty either way. Abortion isn't a black and white issue. We have certainty at the moment [but] let's not forget the case of Savita Halappanavar when doctors treating her were uncertain whether or not they could end that pregnancy.

"Let's not forget Miss P who was clinically dead but on life-support because the child she was carrying was still alive. Doctors were uncertain as to whether they could take her off life support or not." Mr Varadkar added: "So the idea that we have certainty now really isn't correct.

"What is certain now is that a 15-year-old girl who is raped and in pain cannot end her pregnancy in Ireland, and anybody who helps her could be sent to prison for 14 years.

"So is the type of certainty we have now something we want to keep?"

Irish Independent

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