‘Pro-choice’ senator elected chair of abortion committee

Oireachtas committee examining abortion law meets for first time

Senator Catherine Noone.  File photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons/The Irish Times.

Senator Catherine Noone. File photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons/The Irish Times.

 

Fine Gael Senator Catherine Noone has been elected chairwoman of the Oireachtas abortion committee, which met for the first time on Wednesday in private.

The committee will meet again in two weeks. Ms Noone was the only nominee.

Fine Gael’s Senator Jerry Buttimer had been tipped to become chairman, partly because he led the Oireachtas committee that held hearings on the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill four years ago.

On Wednesday morning he said he would have “enjoyed the challenge” but said he was “delighted for Senator Noone and wished her well.

The TDs and senators who are tasked with proposing changes to Ireland’s abortion ban meet for the first time today as Minister for Health Simon Harris said that the country must “prepare itself” for a referendum next year.

The committee is considered to have a majority in favour of liberalising to some degree the State’s strict abortion laws.

The Joint Committee on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution is not expected to hold public sessions until September, however, so a final report to Government may not happen until Christmas.

Minister for Health Simon Harris: “It’s very important that this country prepares itself to hold a referendum on the Eighth Amendment in 2018.” Photograph: Maxwells
Minister for Health Simon Harris: “It’s very important that this country prepares itself to hold a referendum on the Eighth Amendment in 2018.” Photograph: Maxwells

Mr Harris said Taoiseach Leo Varadkar had made clear his intention to hold a referendum next year. “It’s very important that this country prepares itself to hold a referendum on the Eighth Amendment in 2018.”

Members who are described as “pro-choice” are Senator Noone and Kate O’Connell TD of Fine Gael; Sinn Féin’s Louise O’Reilly and Senator Paul Gavan; Labour’s Jan O’Sullivan; Catherine Murphy of the Social Democrats; Clare Daly of Independents 4 Change; Independent Senator Lynn Ruane of the Civil Engagement Group and Solidarity’s Ruth Coppinger.

Conservative views

FG TD Peter Fitzpatrick, Independents TD Mattie McGrath and Senator Rónán Mullen are self-described “pro-life”, while Fianna Fáil’s Anne Rabbitte and James Brown, along with Fine Gael TD Hildegarde Naughton hold conservative views.

Fianna Fáil’s Lisa Chambers and Billy Kelleher are believed to be more liberal, while Sinn Féin TD Jonathan O’Brien has said that he is “not in favour of abortion” but would leave his personal views “at the gate”.

The Oireachtas committee will consider the recommendations of the Citizens’ Assembly, which surprised many in Leinster House by backing the wide availability of abortion, including for economic reasons.

“I expect it will get on with its job and my Department will prepare to deal with recommendations that arise from that committee,” said Mr Harris, who has been given charge of the issue by the Taoiseach.

Earlier this month, the Taoiseach agreed to Minister of State Katherine Zappone’s request to accelerate referendum preparations and to have a “parallel process” to run alongside the committee.

This would examine possible referendum wordings, and the legislative options outlining the circumstances in which abortion could be allowed. The Attorney General will assist the committee, Mr Varadkar decided.

How the commitee breaks down:

Fine Gael (6):

Kate O’Connell

Hildegarde Naughton

Bernard Durkan

Peter Fitzpatrick

Senator Jerry Buttimer

Senator Catherine Noone

Fianna Fáil (5):

Billy Kelleher

Lisa Chambers

Anne Rabbitte

James Brown

Senator Ned O’Sullivan

Sinn Féin (3):

Louise O’Reilly

Jonathan O’Brien

Senator Paul Gavan

Labour (1):

Jan O’Sullivan

Social Democrats/Green Party group (1):

Catherine Murphy

Solidarity/People Before Profit (1):

Ruth Coppinger

Independents4Change (1):

Clare Daly

Independents (3):

TD Mattie McGrath

Senator Ronan Mullen

Senator Lynn Ruane, Civil Engagement Group