Wednesday 21 February 2018

Now Labour wants moves on abortion before election

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin
Archbishop Diarmuid Martin

Niall O'Connor and Sarah MacDonald

The Labour Party is to mount a fresh bid to further liberalise the country's divisive abortion laws on the back of the huge support secured for same-sex marriage.

After the resounding Yes vote in the marriage referendum, Labour is demanding work begins on laws to allow for terminations in cases of fatal foetal abnormalities. To progress the issue before the end of the Coalition's term in office, party figures will this week demand it be immediately examined by the Oireachtas Health Committee to pave the way for a new law.

But senior Fine Gael sources last night warned the party will not be rushed into further liberalising the country's abortion laws, claiming that Labour's push for legislation in cases of fatal foetal abnormalities is deeply flawed.

"It is not compatible with the advice of the Attorney General," a Fine Gael Cabinet minister told the Irish Independent.

But Labour figures are intent on a referendum to repeal the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution becoming part of any new Programme for Government with Fine Gael.

Senator Ivana Bacik, who heads up Labour's internal committee on abortion, will this week request that the Oireachtas Health Committee begins to examine the issue by the autumn.

The request has taken senior Fine Gael figures by surprise as the party fears reopening the emotional abortion debate prior to the general election.

Meanwhile, the country's most senior bishop has said the Catholic Church becomes "almost alien territory" for young people when they leave school.

Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin said the Church must carry out a "reality check" on its relationship with the country's youth population following the referendum result.

"For me, one of the biggest challenges is the fact such a large number of young people who grew up and went to Catholic schools in a Catholic environment in Ireland are drifting away from the Church," the Archbishop told the Irish Independent. "I believe the Church has to carry out a reality check on its relationship with young people, particularly."

Archbishop Martin cautioned that while the strong Yes vote among the young was just one issue, he believed the gap was "much broader" than just the issue of gay marriage.

Paying tribute to young people as "extremely generous and extremely idealistic", he acknowledged that for some young people, the Church becomes "almost alien territory" to them after school.

"If the leadership of the Irish Catholic Church don't recognise that, then they are in severe denial," he warned, adding that it was a big challenge.

Last week, Archbishop Martin asked priests in his diocese to identify five out of 199 parishes in which to pilot a new outreach programme to young people.

Dr Martin said: "The Church has to find a new language which can be understood and heard by people."

The warning from the senior cleric comes as Labour prepares to mount a fresh push for changes to the abortion laws.

The party is preparing proposals to repeal the Eighth Amendment via a referendum with Tánaiste Joan Burton telling RTÉ's 'The Week in Politics' that she believes it should form part of a future programme for government with Fine Gael.

Speaking later at an event in Dublin, the Labour leader said the issue of abortion will form a central component of her party's election manifesto.

But significantly, some Labour figures believe the Government must take a fresh look at the issue of fatal foetal abnormalities and want to see legislation before the end of the Coalition's term.

Labour's Chief Whip, Emmet Stagg, said many in Fine Gael had "come on a journey" in relation to same-sex marriage and that this should continue with other issues such as abortion.

Senator Bacik's request has taken senior Fine Gael figures by surprise as the party fears reopening the emotional abortion debate prior to the general election.

Fine Gael sources say that while they have not ruled out a referendum on the Eighth Amendment in the next Government, there is no scope for any further changes before then.

"We anticipated Labour would reopen the abortion debate if the referendum came through but this is an issue we won't be rushed on," said a party source.

Irish Independent

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