TÁNAISTE Simon Coveney is against unrestricted abortion up to 12 weeks – but will support repealing the Eighth Amendment.
The Foreign Affairs Minister will go against the formal government line on the issue, the Irish Independent understands.
It marks a most unusual split in Cabinet, although sources said he has held long discussions with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar about the issue.
The Cabinet was united during a four-hour meeting on the need for some changes to Ireland’s abortion laws.
However, a number of ministers, including Mr Coveney, expressed seriously reservations about backing the full recommendations of the Oireachtas Committee on the Eighth Amendment.
Speaking after the meeting, Mr Coveney told the Irish Independent: “The status quo of how women are treated in crisis pregnancy cannot remain.
“I am united with my Cabinet colleagues in agreeing to repeal the Eighth Amendment and allowing enabling legislation.
“While there are differing viewpoints on the content of that legislation, particularly on 12-week access unrestricted, that is a matter for the Oireachtas to now debate.
“My views are clear on that and I expressed them at Cabinet.”
Sources described the mood at the meeting as very respectful, with ministers allowed sufficient time to fully air their views.
It is understood that Mr Coveney outlined his support for “almost everything” in the Oireachtas report but stopped short of the key section on what would happen if the Eighth Amendment was repealed.
Sources indicated Mr Coveney would be open-minded about abortions in cases of rape or fatal foetal abnormalities.
The Oireachtas committee on abortion considered the idea of limiting abortion to such cases but found that it would be very difficult to formulate legislation that would allow for a termination in the case of rape.
After outlining his own support for repeal and abortion up to 12 weeks, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said he had no issue with ministers taking an alternative view.
“There are many shades of opinion around the Cabinet table on this and in every household and every place in Ireland,” he said.
The Taoiseach told reporters the decision to hold a referendum was “unanimous” and that ministers support repeal.
“I think without exception that all Cabinet members agree. There is a difference as to what the legislation should be,” he confirmed.
Health Minister Simon Harris said that, despite varying opinions on abortion, the Government was determined to “end decades of indecision” and allow the public to decide.
“This issue is not going away. It’s time for the people of Ireland to have their say on it,” he said.