Sunday 22 September 2019

Five things we can expect from today's Cabinet meeting on abortion referendum

Both sides of debate will be anxiously awaiting the outcome of the meeting

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Photo: Frank McGrath
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Photo: Frank McGrath
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

The Cabinet meets this evening at 5.30pm to make a series of historic decisions that will pave the way for a referendum on abortion.

Both sides of the debate will be anxiously awaiting the outcome of the meeting.

Here Political Editor Kevin Doyle outlines the decisions to be made and the immediate implications.

1. A decision to hold a referendum on May 25 or June 8

The easiest decision facing ministers today will be to actually hold a referendum.

It appears inevitable at this stage that there will be unanimous support for having a vote.

Health Minister Simon Harris will brief ministers that the ideal date would May 25 but that June 8 is also an option. There are fears that going any later than this will lead to a backlash because many students will be away over the summer months.

2. The referendum question: Repeal and Enable understands the Attorney General has compiled advice to the effect that it is not enough to simply repeal the Eighth Amendment which gives equal rights to a mother and her unborn child.

He has recommended that a new line be inserted into the Constitution, giving direct power for legislation on abortion to the Oireachtas. This would be the case anyway – but sources say Seamus Wolfe believes adding in an ‘enabling’ line will offer more certainty in the event of a court challenge to abortion.

3. The real question: Abortion on demand up to 12 weeks?

It won’t be asked on the ballot paper but the referendum will take place with an understanding that if the Eighth Amendment is repealed, then Health Minister Simon Harris will bring forward legislation for a GP-led abortion scheme.

Mr Harris will publish details of the potential legislation before the referendum.

4. Leo Varadkar’s view 'evolves' to point where he supports abortion

The Taoiseach will today announce that he will campaign for abortion to be allowed up to 12 weeks.

His view on the issue has evolved over time but sources say he supports the recommendations of an all-party Oireachtas committee.

5. Simon Coveney will see 12 weeks 'a step too far'

The Cabinet is likely to be split on the idea of 12 weeks. understands Tánaiste Simon Coveney, who is very much on the conservative side of Fine Gael, is now in favour repealing the Eighth – but remains against unrestricted abortion in the first trimester.

Sources said Mr Coveney understands the need for some change but thinks the proposals on the table today go too far.

Other Cabinet ministers who have yet to publicly declare a position include Michael Creed, Heather Humphreys, Denis Naughten, Richard Bruon and Michael Ring. 

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