Saturday 20 October 2018

Govt drops proposal to petition President on abortion

THE Government is shelving a plan for a unique petition to the President for a referendum on a new abortion law.As politicians clashed with the Pro-Life Campaign over the latest poll on abortion, it was confirmed that senior ministers believed that a previously untried route for constitutional change was too complicated.

Article 27 provides for the Dail and Seanad to petition the President to send a proposed law for referendum where it is of particular national importance. If that route was followed, the referendum and the law would be rejected if one-third of voters was against.

A referendum could produce a 60/40 `yes' vote and still fail because of the provisions in Articles 27 and 46 that a petition referendum fails when one-third is against.


While an Article 27 petition has never before been made, Government ministers let it be known in the controversy over the C case that they were considering that route. However, it now seems likely that the Cabinet will follow the precedent of the way the Rainbow Coalition handled the Divorce Referendum.

That would mean advance publication of a new law taking account of the 1992 Supreme Court decision in the X case voters would be asked in a referendum to amend the Constitution to accept it. In the kind of referendum to which the State's 2.7m voters are accustomed, a simple majority would either carry or defeat it.

To deal with the spin-off from the X and C cases, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern has appointed a Cabinet sub-committee to prepare a Green Paper, the first step towards legislation. This is not likely to appear until the second half of next year, with any new law and referendum coming in 1999 at the earliest.

Minister of State Liz O'Donnell, a member of the Cabinet sub-committee, said that a poll showing 77pc in favour of abortion in limited circumstances was evidence of the innate compassion of the Irish people.

She said the Government could proceed with the Green Paper in the confident knowledge there was a widespread awareness of the complex issues involved. Most people did not subscribe to an absolutist moral approach, nor did they subscribe to abortion on demand.

Democratic Left health spokeswoman Liz McManus said the MRBI poll made it clear the ``difficult truth'' that abortion is part of Irish life was now being acknowledged.


The 77pc finding in favour of abortion in limited circumstances represented a very different view to the 1983 Amendment of the Constitution, she said.

Meanwhile, the Irish Family Planning Association (IFPA) has welcomed the change in public opinion. Chief executive Tony O'Brien said it reflected the fact that when abortion is considered in real human terms, the Irish people reject absolutism.

But Youth Defence rejected as ``ill founded'' the results of the opinion poll published in The Irish Times.

``The poll was obviously designed to put pressure on the Government to accept demands for legislation in the mistaken belief that this is the will of the Irish people which it is certainly not,'' said a Youth Defence statement.

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