Abortion referendum set for delay if election held before Christmas

Social-welfare increases and public-service pension restoration also hit

Repeal the Eighth: the abortion referendum is likely to be delayed if a general election is triggered by next week’s no-confidence motions in the Dáil. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

Repeal the Eighth: the abortion referendum is likely to be delayed if a general election is triggered by next week’s no-confidence motions in the Dáil. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

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The abortion referendum is likely to be delayed if a general election is triggered by next week’s no-confidence motions in the Dáil. The work of the Oireachtas group dealing with abortion, the Joint Committee on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution, will also fall once an election is triggered.

Social-welfare increases and the restoration of public-service pension payments are set to be delayed as well. But the cuts in the universal social charge, the sugar tax on sweetened drinks, and all the measures in the Finance Bill will go ahead, as the Bill has completed its passage through the Dáil. The Seanad remains in place after the Dáil is dissolved and can deal with the Bill’s measures.

“Treacherous” to call election

The chairwoman of the Oireachtas committee on abortion, Senator Catherine Noone, said that if Minister for Health Simon Harris did not have legislation ready by mid-February “there’s no way that we can have a referendum by the date they’re saying now, which is May”.

She said it was “treacherous” to call an election in these circumstances. “This is 40 years in the waiting, and an election being caused in these circumstances, when the issue is being dealt with for the first time” in so long, was shocking.

Ms Noone had expected the committee to “start making decisions around December 6th, and we’d have a draft report in mid-December, and we’d publish the report on December 20th – and we’re very much on track”.

Its work so far, including the evidence taken from witnesses at its weekly hearings, could be retained. A new Dáil would have to pass a motion to allow a new committee to review a previous committee’s work, although the group’s composition would probably be different.

Ms Noone said a referendum date would depend on “who comes into power. Fine Gael are committed to this, but it doesn’t mean that another party will be. It really leaves everything in the lap of the gods.”

Christmas bonus safe

Minister for Social Protection Regina Doherty has said that the increased Christmas bonus would be paid next week, because it was agreed by the social-protection committee, but the Social Welfare Bill is “in limbo”. All weekly social-welfare payments were to increase by €5, along with maternity and other schemes.

Fianna Fáil’s social-protection spokesman, Willie O’Dea, said that in the past there was an urgency to pass the Bill, as “social-welfare increases usually kicked in before the end of the year. Now they’re only kicking in at the end of March.”

“If there was a new Dáil and a Social Welfare Bill before the end of March, everything would be okay. However, if there was a general election and protracted negotiations, like the last time, the increases couldn’t come through.” But, Mr O’Dea added, they could be made retrospective.

Public-service pensions

Public-sector pension holders would also be hit by a pre-Christmas election. The Public Service Pay and Pensions Bill is part of a three-stage process to eliminate the penalty imposed in 2011, after the economic collapse. Any public servant with an annual pension of up to €34,132 was due to become fully exempt from the charge on January 1st. Public servants who would still be paying charges on their pensions next year would nonetheless be €1,680 better off from January were the Bill to pass.

Four Government Bills are scheduled for second stage in the Dáil, including the Electoral (Amendment) (Dáil Constituencies) Bill, which changes constituency boundaries. Another four are ongoing at second or introductory stage, and 43, including Private Members’ Bills from Opposition TDs, are at committee stage, where amendments are considered.

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