Monday 19 February 2018

Plan for referendum on abortion bill fails to win support

Michael Brennan

Michael Brennan

A PLAN to hold a referendum on the controversial abortion legislation has been doomed to failure by opposition from the Government and Sinn Fein.

Rebel Labour TD Colm Keaveney is among a number of backbenchers seeking to use a little-known constitutional provision to force a referendum.

Article 27 allows President Michael D Higgins to refuse to sign a bill into law until it is approved in a referendum – as long as he is petitioned by one third of the Dail (55 TDs) and a majority of the Seanad (30 senators).

It would be the first time ever that Article 27 has been used – and would pose a serious headache to the Government's plan to put the bill into law before the Dail's summer break.

But the plan has been dismissed by two Fine Gael ministers, in a clear signal that Fine Gael is not going to allow its 76 TDs to take part. Labour is also opposed to it, with the party saying that there had already been two abortion referendums. And Sinn Fein has also confirmed that its 14 TDs will not be allowed to sign the petition, which is likely to be a deciding factor.

DEBATE

Transport Minister Leo Varadkar said he did not think allowing a referendum on the abortion bill would work – because people would then be seeking referendums in future on other issues such as the budget.

"I don't think it would be a good precedent for our democracy to be putting detailed legislation to a referendum," he told Newstalk's 'Sunday Show'.

Junior finance minister Brian Hayes also said he did not believe it was going to happen.

"It's the firm view of Government that this (abortion) legislation should be passed," he said.

The Dail is due to debate the abortion bill for up to 13 hours this week, and it is expected to be passed into law by the end of next month. The backers of the referendum plan need to get the support of almost all of the 57 opposition TDs – including the 24 Independents.

But their already slim chances have been reduced even further, with Sinn Fein confirming it will not be allowing its 14 TDs to take part. A Fianna Fail spokesman said the party had not discussed the plan – so no decision had been made on what its 19 TDs would do.

Labour TD Colm Keaveney has said that allowing a referendum would help tackle the "democratic deficit" in the country. But he was criticised by Labour Senator Ivana Bacik for engaging in "cynical political grandstanding".

Irish Independent

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