Planned abortion law not as ‘liberal’ as No campaign claim - Flanagan

Fianna Fáil leader does not believe ‘fences to be mended’ with anti-abortion party colleagues

Politicians, politics and the media are playing catch-up to the people in the aftermath of the landslide result in the abortion referendum. Sarah Bardon reports.

 

The abortion legislation to be introduced by the Government after last week’s referendum will “not be of a liberal degree that was forecast by many opposing” the repeal of the Eighth Amendment, the Minister for Justice has said.

Speaking in Cork, Charlie Flanagan said he expected the Minister for Health, Simon Harris, would update the Cabinet on his legislative plans on Tuesday and that he hoped his colleague would proceed with the work “as speedily as possible”.

“However, it’s important that the legislation is right so I have no doubt that the preparation of the legislation is going to take a couple of months,” he added. “We need to acknowledge the deeply held personal views on both sides and being clear cut now and to those people on the other side, I would say to them, the legislation will not be of a liberal degree that was forecast by many opposing the referendum.”

Mr Harris has said he will introduce legislation on reforming the State’s abortion laws in the Dáil before the summer. The legislation would allow for unrestricted terminations up to 12 weeks and restricted abortion in certain circumstances thereafter. The Government had pledged to see the legislation through by Christmas but Mr Harris on Monday said it could pass through the Oireachtas sooner than that.

‘Right’

Asked if the Dáil should not take a summer break in order to move the legislation forward, Mr Flanagan replied “if the legislation is ready, I believe, Yes, it would be important that the Dáil would follow through as expeditiously and speedily as possible but only when the legislation is right”.

He said the Cabinet was yet to discuss the idea of removing the current criminal penalty that faces women for procuring an abortion in the State, which can be up to 14 years in prison, while the legislation is awaited.

Together for Yes co-director Orla O’Connor had urged a more ambitious timescale after the Government committed to change the law before the end of the year.

She said women would still have to travel to the UK to access abortion until any new legislation was passed and said special sittings of the Oireachtas should be considered to ensure the law was passed quickly.

Following the landslide victory in last Friday’s referendum, Mr Harris told The Irish Times the people had spoken and it was the job of the Oireachtas to implement that as soon as practicable.

As well as meeting his officials on Monday, Mr Harris was to meet the Opposition to inform them of the next steps.

‘Owe it’

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said he supported calls for a special Dáil sitting over the summer to accelerate the process of enacting legislation.

“We owe it to the people,” he said. “Parliamentarians have an obligation to respect the will of the people and to respond to the will of the people.”

He told RTÉ’s Today with Sean O’Rourke show that, as a long time supporter of longer Oireachtas sittings, he would at the very least wish to see legislation published before the summer recess, and that a second debate should also take place by then.

Of divisions within Fianna Fáil on the referendum, Mr Martin said he did not believe there were “fences to be mended” with party colleagues. There had been a freedom of conscience vote on the matter because people had deeply held views on the matter, he said.

He pointed out that there were 21 undeclared Fine Gael TDs, but claimed there has been less media fixation on them. “Maybe they stayed quieter.”

When asked if he thought there could be a general election before the repeal legislation was enacted, he said he did not see that happening and he wanted to fulfil the terms of the confidence and supply agreement with the Government.

Mr Martin said that while there was still some distance to go in terms of young people becoming involved with Fianna Fáil numbers had been increasing with each election.

‘Parliamentary tactics’

Fianna Fáil spokesman on finance and No supporter Michael McGrath said he would respect the views of the electorate, and would not block the passage of legislation.

“I would hope that nobody would seek to obstruct the will of the people, although they have deeply held personal views that are contrary to that. I have said that I am not going to stand in the way of the legislation but every deputy will have to reflect on what was an emphatic victory.”

Mr McGrath, who is a constituency colleagues of Mr Martin in Cork South Central, said: “TDs have a right and indeed a duty to scrutinise legislation fully and I expect that to be done in the normal way but I wouldn’t like to see any filibuster or any parliamentary tactics used to frustrate the will of the people.”

The Government has published draft heads of a Bill which give a summary of the objectives of the new law. Full heads are expected to be published by the summer, but the full text of the legislation will not be completed and ready to be tabled in the Dáil until the autumn, the Government said last week.

Saturday’s count showed that 66 per cent of the 2.15 million voters who went to the polls backed the proposal to remove the Eighth Amendment from the Constitution, while 34 per cent voted to retain it. Turnout, at 64 per cent, was extremely high for a referendum.