Saturday 17 August 2019

Referendum on abortion is ‘not my area’ – Noonan

Reilly's call to repeal Eighth turns focus on FG colleagues

Michael Noonan: Refused to express view on referendum
Michael Noonan: Refused to express view on referendum

Niall O'Connor, Sarah Collins and Caroline Crawford

Finance Minister Michael Noonan has point blank refused to express a view on the prospect of a referendum to repeal the Eighth Amendment, saying the matter does not fall within his "area of responsibility".

Mr Noonan yesterday completely ducked the issue of abortion, which was put back on the top of the political agenda following an intervention by Fine Gael deputy leader James Reilly.

Dr Reilly's decision to call for an early referendum to repeal the Eighth Amendment, which gives equal right to life to the mother and the unborn, has heaped pressure on other Cabinet members to make their views public.

Senior Fine Gael sources last night said they are confident the party's manifesto will address the matter in some form - but insisted that further internal discussion is required.

"We won't be quiet on the issue, but no wording has been agreed [in terms of the manifesto]," said one Fine Gael strategist.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny, who has to date refused to commit to a referendum, declined to take questions from the media during an event in Mayo yesterday.

And in Brussels, Mr Noonan also refused to be drawn on the issue.

"Well, it's not a finance minister's area of responsibility and I won't be saying anything.

"I'll wait for the party to develop its policy on that. And the people involved in other departments will develop that policy and will come back to us. And then I'll have my say," he said.

Asked whether the issue will be addressed in the manifesto, Mr Noonan replied: "I couldn't tell you that."

A Fine Gael spokesman last night said: "Any future change will require considered and careful public debate."

He added: "This is a complex and sensitive issue, about which many Irish people have sincere and strongly held views.

"It was this Government that took action to legislate for the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 20 years after the X case ruling."

Dr Reilly, the Children's Minister, said he "cannot countenance, as a doctor or human being" the scenario whereby women are forced to go through with their pregnancies in cases of fatal foetal abnormalities.

"But most repugnant of all to me is that they have to leave this country for a termination and then sneak back in like criminals to bring their babies' remains back. That's patently wrong," he said.


Speaking to the Irish Independent, Dr Reilly said he expects any future debate on repealing the Eighth Amendment to be "thorny and difficult".

He said that a forum with experts will need to be established to examine what can be put to replace the amendment once it is repealed.

"I'd hope that it [a referendum] would happen early in the next government and I really hope that we would get that forum up and running and that we would have that national debate and of course it will be thorny, and of course it'll be difficult. Lots of things in life are, but you know you've some very glaring injustice here that has to be addressed."

The prospect of a referendum is also causing division in Fianna Fáil.

The party is refusing to commit to a public vote until it is satisfied that something suitable can be put in its place.

Tánaiste Joan Burton has said she is confident a referendum will take place if the party is returned to power.

Irish Independent

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