Monday 18 February 2019

Election and abortion vote could be on same day, says minister

WARNING: Referendum Commission must help voters to distinguish claim from fact, says Michael D’Arcy
WARNING: Referendum Commission must help voters to distinguish claim from fact, says Michael D’Arcy
Philip Ryan

Philip Ryan

A government minister has suggested holding a general election and a referendum on the Eighth Amendment on the same day next summer.

The move would make abortion a key election battleground and lead to a divisive campaign.

Junior Finance Minister Michael D'Arcy, who describes himself as "anti-abortion" said the "natural place" for the next general election would be summer 2018.

Mr D'Arcy said holding a general election the following year would be a "big strain on the political parties" because local and European elections were due to be held in 2019.

"Summer 2018 is half-way through a five-year term after what I would call a score draw that the general election of 2016 was. Two-and-a-half years in is probably a natural break," he told the Sunday Independent.

"In summer 2019 do you have a general election along with a European and local election? It's hard to see that.

"There is going to be a referendum in relation to the Eighth Amendment. I'm not sure what it's going to look like. That could happen summer 2018 as well," he added.

He also said he would support a second term for President Michael D Higgins because he has "done a great job" and it would avoid the need for a presidential election next year.

A general election has never been held in the same year as local and European elections. However, in 1992, an abortion referendum was held on the same date as the general election. The referendum was held to make constitutional changes to allow women to legally travel to Britain to have abortions.

The vote was sparked by the controversial X case which saw a young woman in State care prevented from travelling to the UK for an abortion after expressing suicidal thoughts.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar pledged to hold a referendum on the Eighth Amendment next year and said his preference was for May or June.

An Oireachtas committee will examine the proposals set out by the Citizens' Assembly once the Dail returns, and a proposal for a referendum will then be voted on by TDs and senators.

Mr D'Arcy said his position has always been that he was "anti-abortion" and he would not want to see the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution removed without knowing what would replace it. He said the issue of fatal foetal abnormalities was "emotive" but he believes constitutional changes to allow for abortions in these cases would pass.

Asked if he would support abortion in the case of fatal foetal abnormalities, Mr D'Arcy said: "My mind hasn't concluded in relation to it."

He added: "It's a tough question. I've always been against abortion. Some of the horror stories about women travelling do bother me, they do upset me. I think we have moved as a society, I think in a referendum that would pass.

"I'm not an uncaring person by any manner of means and they are harrowing stories to listen to what those women have to go through."

He insisted he does not want to be "pigeon-holed" as pro-life or pro-choice as his views on abortion were nuanced and not black and white. The minister also warned pro-choice and pro-life campaigners against confusing their own opinions with factual information about abortion when the campaign officially begins next year.

He said the Referendum Commission would have a crucial role to play during the campaign to ensure voters could distinguish between claims made by both lobby groups and the facts about removing the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution.

"We are in the era of social media and, good Lord, we know we are hearing a lot about fake news," he said.

"Look at what happened in the UK with Brexit. People made a determination on information that wasn't correct and I have a problem with that."

Sunday Independent

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