Tuesday 22 May 2018

Taoiseach warns of 'realistic possibility' that some TDs will try to thwart Eighth bill

Stock picture
Stock picture

Shona Murray

The starting pistol has been fired in the referendum on abortion but there are several obstacles to be cleared before the Government's Eighth Amendment bill is passed.

On the face of it the debate so far has been constructive and respectful. TDs on the Opposition benches were even complimentary at the efficiency with which the Government has progressed the vote.

Independent TD Tommy Broughan said he thought the initial process of holding a Citizens' Assembly and then setting up an Oireachtas committee was just a box-ticking exercise, but said he believes it has worked out quite well.

The resounding victory for the State in the Supreme Court case finding the unborn does not have a right to life within the Constitution outside the Eighth Amendment, paved the way for the seamless publication of the referendum bill.

The Dáil Business Committee - which fixes the Dáil agenda - has dedicated more time on March 20 to facilitate further debate, when the Dáil will sit until midnight.

In his strident pitch for a repeal of the Eighth Amendment, Health Minister Simon Harris laid out the abortion regime that would replace the current one; including an examination of free contraception to keep abortion rates low.

However, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar warned of "a realistic possibility" that some TDs may plan to thwart or slow down the movement of the bill through the Oireachtas in an effort to stop the May referendum from taking place.

"There are some TDs for whom it won't be enough for them to just to contribute to the debate, they will try to prevent the bill progressing through the Dáil and the Seanad.

Read More: How proposal to allow abortion up to 12 weeks will work...

"I'd really appeal to them not to do that because, whatever your views may be on this issue, I think it is time that the Irish people had their say and I would really like to have the vote in May so we can maximise participation", said Mr Varadkar.

Anti-repeal TD Mattie McGrath said the bill was being "rushed", and the manner in which the Government was dealing with it was "nothing short of disgraceful".

Mr McGrath has shut down debates on this matter by calling a quorum which demands 10 TDs are present in a debate.

Moreover, there is also the possibility that misinformation about the implications of repealing the Eighth Amendment will be disseminated by campaigns on either side, therefore muddying the waters and frightening voters in to keeping the status quo.

In January, the head of Down Syndrome Ireland intervened on the debate, requesting all political parties and any other interested groups stop exploiting children and adults with Down syndrome to promote their campaign views.

Although the Government has published its policy paper - outlining its proposed legislation and essentially the circumstances in which abortion will be permissible - this will not be contained in the Referendum Commission's public information drive. The chance that baseless concerns or factless statements will be planted in its place is particularly high.

Irish Independent

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News