Varadkar refuses to take part in TV debate on vote - citing 'protocol' of office
Leo Varadkar claims protocol around the office of the Taoiseach is why he won't take part in a debate on the Eighth Amendment referendum with those on the opposing side.
Mr Varadkar told the Irish Independent that the Taoiseach normally debates exclusively with the leaders of the other political parties during referendums.
Given that all other party leaders are in favour of repealing the legislation, there is nobody of appropriate stature to debate with him, he said.
"I haven't done any of the TV debates because there's a protocol around the Taoiseach's office.
"What you do as Taoiseach is you debate other party leaders," he said. "Because the other party leaders are all supporting a Yes vote, that doesn't arise.
"You tend to only debate opponents in that kind of scenario, so you know, who would I be debating?
"Would I be up against Mattie McGrath?" he asked.
The Taoiseach, who was once staunchly anti-abortion even in hard cases such as rape, said his position evolved after "listening to the women in my life, my mum and my sister who will be voting Yes".
Now he says that proposals for legislation for abortion up to 12 weeks was necessary because all crisis pregnancies are "hard cases". He said abortion is "never an easy way out", adding: "I can't imagine how anyone could make that decision easily."
He also said it was "virtually impossible" to legislate for abortion in cases of rape alone due to the difficulty of proving rape.
In Poland "they have that law and the equivalent of the DPP has to certify that the story you're telling of being raped is credible".
"And when you think of having to write a law like that and put women who were victims of sexual assault or sexual violence through that process...I find it revolting," he said.
Mr Varadkar warned that women were also at "real risk" by importing abortion pills without a clinician's supervision. "I'm personally very worried that it's only a matter of time before we have a tragedy in Ireland, where somebody takes an abortion pill without supervision and dies as a result.
"If you vote No on Friday we wash your hands afterwards as if we're somehow not responsible for that."
The penalty for abortion in Ireland is 14 years in prison, and although there haven't been any prosecutions, Mr Varadkar warned there could be.
"We have to consider the possibility that someone could report a woman for taking these pills.
"The gardaí and the DPP wouldn't have much discretion, they have to enforce the law."
He said it would not be possible to reduce the penalty to a lower sentence or to a fine.
The Eighth Amendment effectively says abortion is "homicide", so the penalty must reflect this, he explained.
As the referendum campaign enters its final week, Mr Varadkar warned against "notoriously unreliable" prediction polls.
"In the Seanad referendum we were well ahead in the polls and it didn't happen.
"Latest polls say that the Repeal side is in the lead, albeit with a narrowing margin.
"And the result in the marriage equality referendum was much narrower than anyone had anticipated," he said.
He believes the No side will turn out in big numbers as "they're very motivated".
Mr Varadkar was joined by numerous senior government figures on a canvass in Tullamore yesterday, including Tánaiste Simon Coveney, Health Minister Simon Harris and Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy.
Pressing the flesh with locals on the main street, he sought to engage with No and undecided voters.
On the occasions where he made little impact, it was left to pro-choice aficionados Kate O'Connell and Senator Catherine Noone, who chaired the Oireachtas Committee on abortion, to make the case for repeal.
Confirmed No voter Ronan Brennan said that when it came to the so-called 'hard cases', "we're only talking about one in a million", adding the proposed legislation was too far-reaching.
As the Taoiseach moved on, Ms O'Connell and Ms Noone swooped in to make the case for repeal.
Some 30 minutes later, after speaking about her own personal experiences, Ms O'Connell emerged somewhat hopeful she had changed his mind.
Meanwhile, Mr Varadkar launched a scathing attack on Sinn Féin's suitability as a government party after polls showed a surge in support for leader Mary Lou McDonald.
"I do not consider [Sinn Féin] a compatible partner in government, they're not a normal party.
"They don't respect our courts, they don't respect our prison officers," he said, before adding: "There's no election planned."