Higgins to announce decision on abortion Bill tomorrow
Council of State meeting at Áras an Uachtaráin attended by 21 members of 24-strong council
Clockwise from above: The Council of State meeting to consider the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill 2013; Mrs McAleese arriving at Áras an Uachtaráin; former taoiseach Brian Cowen arriving by van; and former taoiseach Bertie Ahern yesterday.Photographs: Cyril Byrne/Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin
President Michael D Higgins will announce his decision by tomorrow night on whether or not he will refer the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill to the Supreme Court to test its constitutionality
A meeting of the Council of State was convened yesterday at Áras an Uachtaráin by Mr Higgins to discuss the Bill, which allows abortion to be legally carried out in the State in limited circumstances.
The provisions of article 26 of Bunreacht na hÉireann allow the President to refer a Bill to the Supreme Court to allow it determine if it is repugnant to the Constitution.
If the President decides to refer the Bill to the Supreme Court, it must be done within seven days of him receiving the text that has been approved by the Oireachtas.
Mr Higgins received the Bill last Wednesday and is not required to make his decision known until midnight tomorrow.
The meeting was attended by 21 members of the 24-strong council and lasted for some 3½ hours.
It commenced at about 3.15pm following a brief photocall in the main drawing room of the President’s residence in the Phoenix Park and concluded at about 6.45pm.
Only three of the council were absent: they were former president Mary Robinson, and former taoisigh Albert Reynolds and John Bruton.
The 21 persons who attended, including seven members of the judiciary, still made it the biggest council since the Constitution came into effect in 1937.
The details of discussions at the council meetings are kept confidential.
President Higgins chaired the meeting, and those familiar with the process expected key contributions from Attorney General Máire Whelan and, possibly, from President of the High Court Nicholas Kearns. Mr Justice Kearns arrived to the Áras with a box containing documents.
Members of the council began arriving at the front entrance of the Áras just before 2pm.
The council comprises serving and former office holders including former president Mary McAleese, Taoiseach Enda Kenny, Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore; serving and former members of the judiciary including Chief Justice Mrs Justice Susan Denham, the Attorney General Ms Whelan, and seven members appointed by the President.
Three former taoisigh were also in attendance; the 93-year-old Liam Cosgrave; Bertie Ahern and Brian Cowen.
Mr Ahern and Mr Cowen both arrived using their own transport.
Mr Ahern walked up the driveway to the reception area and Mr Cowen, who was the last to arrive, was transported to the front door of the Áras by an Office of Public Works bus.
Another nonogenarian in attendance yesterday was the former chief justice Thomas Finlay.
A total of 15 Bills have been referred since 1940. The last Bill referred to the Supreme Court was the Nursing Homes Bill in early 2005.
The Bill proposed to prevent retrospective payments to residents of nursing homes and other institutions and was referred by then president Mary McAleese. The Supreme Court ruled the Bill was repugnant to the Constitution.
The convening of the Council of State to discuss a Bill is a relatively rare phenomenon. It occurred only eight times during the 14-year presidency of Mrs McAleese.
This is the first time that Mr Higgins has called a meeting of the Council of State using the powers available to him under article 26.
Once a Bill is found to be in keeping with the Constitution after being referred under the article 26 provision, the legislation can never be challenged on constitutional grounds again by a citizen in the courts.