Abortion committee chair says it would be ‘prudent’ to propose referendum that will pass

FG ministers believe only more restrictive abortion regime will pass

The chairwoman of the all-party committee on the eighth amendment Senator Catherine Noone.

The chairwoman of the all-party committee on the eighth amendment Senator Catherine Noone.

 

The chairwoman of the all-party committee on the eighth amendment Senator Catherine Noone has said that it would be “prudent” for the Government to propose a wording that can be successful in a referendum.

Ms Noone was speaking following an Irish Times report on Thursday that Fine Gael ministers believe the Citizens Assembly recommendations are unlikely to be passed, either in the Dáil or in a referendum.

The Assembly recommended providing much wider legal access to abortion than is currently the case. Its report is currently being discussed by the committee chaired by Ms Noone, a process which is likely to lead to a referendum in the first half of next year. Any referendum wording will not be agreed by the Government until after the committee produces its report, scheduled for December.

However, already many Fine Gael ministers believe that only a much more restrictive abortion regime to one favoured by the Assembly stands a chance of passing through the Dáil and a subsequent referendum.

“It would be prudent for the Government to want to put a question that can be passed successfully,” Ms Noone told The Irish Times today.

“It wouldn’t make sense to put forward a referendum that was going to be defeated.”

However, Ms Noone also acknowledged the difficulty of knowing how exactly how people would vote in a referendum.

Speaking to the BBC Women’s Hour programme, she said, “It’s very hard to know what people’s views are.

“The Citizens Assembly came up with quite a liberal position. They would have been in favour of abortion without restriction - you know, which a lot of people feel the Irish public wouldn’t agree with.

“But there’s no tangible evidence of what the Irish people actually feel. Or actually would vote for in a referendum,” she said.

Opinion polls in The Irish Times have repeatedly suggested that voters favour liberalising Ireland’s strict anti-abortion laws in specific cases such as rape and instances of fatal foetal conditions, but would not back general access to abortion.

Some ministers expect that the all-party committee will produce a minority report - or possibly two minority reports, representing the anti-abortion and pro-choice voices on the committee - but hope that a majority of the committee will propose a referendum offering a limited liberalisation of the law.

Committee sources acknowledge that there is little prospect of consensus across the entire membership.