Abortion referendum endorsed by Human Rights Commission
The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission has endorsed calls by the United Nations for Ireland to hold a referendum on abortion and address the country's "highly restrictive" laws on sexual and reproductive health.
It is a major policy departure and its strongest position yet on abortion.
The IHERC said it endorsed recommendations by various UN treaty-monitoring committees that the State should take all necessary measures to revise its legal framework on abortion to ensure that it is in line with international human rights law.
The new stance by the IHERC will place pressure on political parties to clarify their stance on abortion in the run-up to the election and ahead of Ireland's appearance before the United Nations next year.
Ireland is due to appear before the United Nations next spring as part of the UN's Second Universal Period Review (UPR).
All of the United Nation's 192 member states are required to take part in the UPR, which takes place every four years. Ireland last appeared before the UPR in 2011.
In a written document submitted this week in advance of the 2016 hearing, the IHERC said it remained concerned about the current legal position in Ireland in relation to abortion.
The IHERC, led by Chief Commissioner Emily Logan, -formerly the Children's Ombudsman - said it feared that the current position was having "a disproportionate negative impact on women from lower socio-economic backgrounds".
And it adds: "It also impacts on women who are seeking asylum or migrant women where their immigration status prevents them from travelling."
Significantly, the commission said that it endorsed recommendations made by various UN treaty-monitoring committees. These include the UN's Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR)and the UN's powerful Human Rights Committee.
Earlier this year, the CESCR urged the Government here to take "all necessary steps", including a referendum on abortion, and to revise its legislation - including the Constitution and the 2013 Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act - in line with international human rights standards.
And last year, the Human Rights Committee said Ireland should hold two referenda, including one on abortion, to bring its treatment of women into line with international human rights law.
It called on the Government to revise its legislation on abortion, including the Constitution, to enable women who would be entitled to an abortion under international human rights law, to access one here and also to swiftly clarify what constitutes a real and substantive threat to a woman's life.
Two members of the IHERC did not support the recommendation which said that the State was "constrained" in its approach to the A, B & C case in the European Court of Human Rights - which led to the 2013 Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act - in the absence of a constitutional amendment on the issue.
The submission comes as the IHERC continues its first nationwide public consultation.
The commission holds its Dublin consultation tonight.