Abortion Bill to be published by summer

Inclusion of suicide threat likely to cause difficulties for some Fine Gael deputies

Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin: “The allegation that civil servants are frustrating a banking inquiry is outrageous.” Photograph: Eric Luke

A Bill to legalise abortion in certain circumstances, including the risk of suicide, is included in the programme of legislation the Government intends to publish between now and the summer break.

The legislation, the Protection of Maternal Life Bill, is one of about 30 new pieces of legislation that have been earmarked for publication during the summer term of the Dáil.

The Bill, which is still being drafted, will make abortion legally permissible in certain circumstances and give statutory backing to the Supreme Court decision in the X case in 1991. The legislation will permit abortion when there is a real and substantial risk to the life of the mother. That risk will include the threat of suicide or self-destruction.

Suicide threat
The inclusion of the suicide threat in the legislation is likely to cause difficulties for a number of Fine Gael deputies including John O'Mahony (Mayo); Terence Flanagan (Dublin North East); John Paul Phelan (Carlow-Kilkenny); Peter Matthews (Dublin South); and James Bannon (Longford-Westmeath).


An earlier draft of the Bill where the opinion of up to five medical experts would be required before an abortion would be permitted on the grounds of suicide was strongly rejected by the Labour Party. There has been tight secrecy surrounding the compromise formula that has been worked out between the two Coalition partners.

An omission from the list that has come as a surprise to some is the Bill proposing the constitutional amendment that will abolish Seanad Éireann. The soundings coming from Government in recent months had been that the referendum would take place early in the autumn.

However, if the Bill is not published until the autumn, it suggests the referendum date will be pushed back.

Only nine of the 30 Bills earmarked for publication in the last term have been published. Those not published included a number of Bills to improve governance and transparency by Government, including a new inquiries Bill, a whistleblowers' Bill and reform of the freedom of information Bill.

Yesterday, Minister for Public Expenditure Brendan Howlin responded to comments by Fianna Fáil TD Seán Fleming in The Irish Times that it was in the interest of senior public servants that a banking inquiry be delayed.

Banking inquiry
"The allegation that civil servants are frustrating a banking inquiry is outrageous. All legal and constitutional advices received underline the requirement for approaching an inquiry with an open mind.

"Clearly Deputy Fleming has already come to his own conclusions. The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform strongly supports the objective of undertaking an effective and legally robust parliamentary banking inquiry and has been working towards this end since its establishment."

Mr Howlin said it was a complex piece of legislation being prioritised both in the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and in the Office of the Attorney General.

“I expect that the Bill will be published over the coming weeks. I am confident that members on all sides of the House will co-operate in facilitating its passing in the current session.”

The Cabinet is also expected today to give approval for a €6 billion strategic investment fund, drawing from the National Pension Reserve Fund.

Harry McGee

Harry McGee

Harry McGee is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times