Tuesday 22 May 2018

Uncertainty over whether '12-week abortion' legislation will pass Dáil vote - as top TDs refuse to disclose their views

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Cormac McQuinn and Philip Ryan

There are serious doubts over whether legislation to allow abortions up to 12 weeks into a pregnancy will pass a Dáil vote amid ongoing uncertainty on where a sizeable chunk of TDs stand on the proposal.

Leading politicians have raised concern that this is allowing uncertainty to enter into the debate as the public seek to make up their own minds.

But despite the possibility that the Dáil numbers may not stack up to pass the 12 weeks provision, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar last night said he believes laws providing for such an abortion regime could be put in place by the end of the year.

The latest Irish Independent analysis of support for the 12 weeks proposal shows 57 TDs in favour, 73 against, and 28 undeclared. The support of around 80 TDs is needed if such legislation is to pass in the Dáil.

This may be out of reach unless Sinn Féin - which currently doesn't support the 12 weeks proposal - changes its position.

It has indicated that it will hold a special ard fheis, in which it may change its stance. But, crucially, it has yet to confirm that this will be before the referendum.

A spokesman said last night: "The priority for Sinn Féin at this time is to ensure that the Eighth Amendment is repealed." He said party bosses will discuss the timing of the ard fheis next week.

Meanwhile, several ministers, including Michael Ring, Heather Humphreys, Denis Naughten and Junior Minister Catherine Byrne, have yet to declare their views on the matter.

Social Democrats co-leader Catherine Murphy said it would be "helpful" if Sinn Féin and other TDs who have yet to declare their position on 12 weeks did so, "to give some extra degree of certainty" on the outcome of a future Dáil vote.

Ms Murphy, who supports repeal said: "I think there's a responsibility on people who haven't declared to declare." She added: "That's what political courage is supposed to be all about."

Labour leader Brendan Howlin urged Sinn Féin to make its stance on the 12 weeks provision known before the referendum. He said the absence of clarity on the party's position allowed "people to add the notion of uncertainty" into the abortion debate.

"There should be clarity in relation to what will follow if the people vote to remove the Eighth Amendment. I think Sinn Féin has an important role to play in that," he added.

Fine Gael TD Peter Burke is the latest politician to outline his position on abortion but it potentially adds more uncertainty into the mix.

Although he supports holding a referendum, he said he can't support repealing the Eighth Amendment, which gives equal status to the life of a mother and the unborn.

He said this is because a minority government can't guarantee what kind of legislation on abortion would replace it. Mr Burke is against the 12 week proposal.

He said he does not support repeal due to that concern that, in theory, "anything could be proposed" during the legislative process by politicians on either side of the abortion debate given the Government's minority status

The 12 weeks issue was discussed on RTÉ's 'The Week in Politics' with junior minister Pat Breen saying he is still undecided. He indicated that he is waiting for Health Minister Simon Harris to publish the heads of the legislation that would replace the Eighth Amendment.

Pro-life Fianna Fáil TD Thomas Byrne said: "It is exceedingly difficult for citizens to make up their mind when we have ministers...saying that they have to wait for the legislation to decide what their position is."

Mr Varadkar said the basic question being put to the people remains the same "regardless of what any party position is".

He said if the referendum is passed, it would allow the Oireachtas to change Ireland's laws from a ban on abortion to a regime "that is about trusting women and trusting their doctors". "Sometimes we are putting the cart before the horse in terms of talking about what the legislation is going to be. There will be no change if the Constitution is not amended."

Irish Independent

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