No referendum on Eighth Amendment until 2018 at earliest

AAA-PBP calls counter-motion to abortion Bill a ‘sell-out and betrayal’

Ruth Coppinger has called the government 'disgraceful' over reports that it has agreed a counter motion to an Anti Austerity Alliance-People Before Profit Bill to repeal the Eighth Amendment. Video: Oireachtas TV

 

A possible referendum to repeal the Eighth Amendment cannot be held until 2018 at the earliest under a compromise reached by the Government on Tuesday.

Fine Gael and the Independent Alliance secured agreement on how to vote on a Bill, which is seeking to hold a referendum to remove the equal right to life of the mother and the unborn from the Constitution.

The deal struck by the two sides ensures the Bill proposed by the Anti-Austerity Alliance-People before Profit TDs does not progress to second stage due to the work of the Citizens’ Assembly

The Assembly, which has requested six months to complete its work, will send its recommendations to an Oireachtas committee.

The agreement reached between the Alliance and Fine Gael commits to an additional six-month timeframe for that committee to complete its deliberations.

This means a referendum, if proposed by the assembly, could not be held until early 2018.

However, many Government sources confirmed that the second half of that year was more likely.

A spokeswoman for the Independent Ministers said they had no agreement on the timing for any referendum but hoped that there would be no delay.

People before Profit TD Bríd Smith criticised the Independent Alliance for agreeing to the counter motion.

Ms Smith said the Alliance had taken a cowardly way out and should have insisted on a free vote.

She said: “Yet again things are promised to people and the first chance and the first hurdle they let them down. It is a disgrace. Our Bill does not fly in the face of the citizen’s assembly of 99 citizens. The Dáil is the citizens assembly.”

The Alliance had been in discussions with Fine Gael over the weekend in a bid to secure a vote of conscience on the Bill.

The negotiations, which had been ongoing throughout the weekend, did not conclude until Tuesday morning.

The agreement reached between the Minister for Health Simon Harris and his Independent colleagues allowed the Bill to be debated in the House on Tuesday night. However, the Government’s counter motion will ensure no vote will take place on the Bill itself.

The agreement also commits not to pass any motion on abortion while the assembly is under way.

There is also a clause which will allow Independent Ministers a free vote on anything not included in Programme for Partnership.

However, many insiders insisted this had little practical meaning.

The Government will continue to take a position on all important matters, and Independents will support those positions in the Dáil, one senior figure confirmed.

Minister for Transport Shane Ross insisted the Alliance had secured a number of compromises from their Government colleagues including a timeframe for the committee.

He said: “If you think achieving a six-month time-frame for both those institutions is achieving nothing . . . It was 30 years ago that I opposed putting this into the Constitution. Now we are moving very fast in those terms. It is a very divisive issue. We are going to have to do something that is sensible and brings people along with us.”

A vote will take place on Thursday on the Government’s counter motion, which will in turn block a vote on the Bill itself.

Government sources said it was confident the matter had been politically settled and would not resurface until “the end of next year” at the earliest.

“This is a sell-out and betrayal by the Independent Ministers like Katherine Zappone, John Halligan and Shane Ross,” said Anti Austerity Alliance TD Ruth Coppinger on the Dáil plinth on Tuesday evening.

“Ministers, who said they are in favour of repeal, will line up and vote as part of the government against repealing the Eighth amendment. They are putting their ministerial seats before the health and lives of women.

“This vote will guarantee that no referendum will take place during the life-time of this government. By the time the Citizens’ Assembly reports back, the Oireachtas Committee sits and then a Bill is passed through both houses, the earliest opportunity for a referendum will be late 2018 or early 2019, by that stage this government may not be in power. They have sent a clear message to women telling them they can continue to wait.”