Bill to cut penalty for abortion to €1 defeated in Dáil

All but three Fianna Fáil TDs vote with Government while Sinn Féin abstains

Minister for Children Katherine Zappone had initially blocked the Government from reaching an agreed position on the bill but overcame her misgivings following advice from the attorney general. Photograph: Eric Luke / The Irish Times

Minister for Children Katherine Zappone had initially blocked the Government from reaching an agreed position on the bill but overcame her misgivings following advice from the attorney general. Photograph: Eric Luke / The Irish Times

 

A bill to reduce the penalty for an illegal abortion from 14 years in prison to €1 has been overwhelmingly defeated in the Dáil.

The private members bill, introduced this week by AAA-PBP TD Bríd Smith, was defeated by 81 votes to 26 in the Dáil on Thursday, with 22 TDs abstaining.

The bill is the latest in a series of private members bills brought forward by opposition TDs in this Dáil and the last seeking to liberalise Ireland’s strict laws banning abortion in almost all instances. All have been defeated.

The bill, which was debated in the Dáil earlier this week and voted on during the weekly voting session Thursday, was opposed by the Government after Independent Minister Katherine Zappone, who had initially blocked the Government from reaching an agreed position on the bill, overcame her misgivings following advice from the attorney general.

Fianna Fáil TDs had a vote of conscience on the bill, but all bar three - Stephen Donnelly, Lisa Chambers and Billy Kelleher - voted with the Government on the bill.

Most rural independents also voted with the Government, while Labour and the Independents4Change voted with the AAA-PBP in support of the bill.

Sinn Féin abstained on the vote, leading to criticism from the Ms Smith, who criticised Sinn Féin at a “Repeal the Eighth” rally outside Leinster House on Wednesday evening.

Sinn Féin responded Thursday, saying that they were “on the same side” as the AAA-PBP.

“That is madness and I can only assume it is done out of selfish party political interests,” the Sinn Féin health spokeswoman Louise O’Reilly said of Ms Smith’s attack on the party for refusing to support her bill.

“The reality is that unless all of the political forces who are campaigning for repeal can work together then this campaign will be lost for another generation.”

In the Dáil, the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald suggested that it would be next year before any referendum on the Eighth Amendment, which is enshrined in the Constitution as article 40.3.3 and guarantees the equal right to life of the mother and the unborn, is held - if it is held at all.

In answer to the Green Party leader Eamon Ryan who sought a detailed timeline of when a referendum on abortion might be held, Ms Fitzgerald said the Citizen’s Assembly would conclude its work on the subject by mid-year and a special Oireachtas committee would then look at the assembly’s recommendations.

That process will not be concluded until the end of the year, which would mean it would be the beginning of 2018 at the earliest before the Government and the Dáil come to make any decision on a referendum to either repeal or replace the eighth amendment.

The assembly will not make a decision on what its recommendations are until its final meeting on the weekend of April 22nd-23rd.

Last weekend, Judge Laffoy told delegates that the final weekend would comprise “a series of important steps.”

She said that they would be “agreeing on the issues to be included in a ballot, agreeing on the precise wording of the ballot and finally voting.”

Neither the nature of the voting, nor the exact choices that delegates will face, have yet been decided.

However, one legal expert who addressed the assembly last weekend, Brian Murray SC, suggested that the broad choices facing the delegates were to leave the constitutional article intact; to repeal it completely, or to replace it with something else.