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Sunday 22 April 2018

Kevin Doyle: Abortion referendum is going to happen so let's drop the histrionics and simply get on with it

Demonstrators at The March for Choice in Dublin, a demonstration demanding change to Ireland's strict abortion laws. Photo: Tom Honan/PA Wire
Demonstrators at The March for Choice in Dublin, a demonstration demanding change to Ireland's strict abortion laws. Photo: Tom Honan/PA Wire
Stock photo: Tom Honan/PA Wire
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

It seems pretty clear now we'll be voting on the abortion referendum in the summer.

Nobody in Government will say it out loud but there is a growing consensus among ministers that the country will be asked a reasonably straightforward question along the lines: Do you want to repeal the Eighth Amendment and give the Oireachtas the power to legislate for abortion? And in the event that is your preference, do you want TDs to allow unrestricted terminations up to 12 weeks into a pregnancy?

That final bit might be "one step too far" for politicians and the public, according to Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.

He may well be correct but anybody who prejudges a referendum result doesn't understand Irish politics.

Some on the 'pro-life' side will jump on the Taoiseach's remarks to argue that this is too much, too soon.

'Pro-choice' campaigners will point to Mr Varadkar's acknowledgement that abortion pills are being used "all over Ireland, every day".

The findings of the Citizens' Assembly and in turn the Oireachtas committee are not binding - but unless their recommendations are put to the public then the process was pointless.

Most commentators, myself included, believed that the long-winded route to a referendum put in place by Enda Kenny was little more that an exercise in stalling.

But it has proven useful because it afforded the experts a reasonably calm environment in which to lay out the facts and figures.

Unfortunately the referendum debate is likely to descend into a shouting match that will see elements on both sides attempt to manipulate the agenda and engage in 'fake news'.

That is why politicians need to show serious leadership for once. They must set the tone for debate, in the same way that Mr Varadkar yesterday acknowledged that many will struggle with the idea of allowing unrestricted abortions.

It's OK to be unsure about how to vote. This is not an easy question and we only get one vote each.

Mr Varadkar's assessment seems to be that Ireland has moved dramatically on this issue since the prospect of a referendum was raised a few years back.

"It [the committee's report] certainly went further than I would have anticipated a year or two ago," Mr Varadkar told reporters.

Next week, the Dáil will debate the report for three days so it is to be deeply hoped that histrionics don't take over.

The referendum is going to happen so all sides should agree on one thing: The sooner the better.

Irish Independent

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