Abortion referendum set for May or June of next year

Varadkar will bring indicative dates of various polls coinciding with elections to Cabinet

A referendum on the eighth amendment governing Ireland’s abortion laws is provisionally scheduled for either May or June 2018, according to a memorandum Taoiseach Leo Varadkar is bringing to Cabinet this week.

Indicative dates for upcoming referendums and future polls will be discussed by Ministers on Tuesday, with a number of votes possibly taking place on the same day as a presidential election.

One referendum which could coincide with a potential presidential election in October 2018 is the long-promised vote on the constitutional provision relating to the role of women in the home.

Also slated for that date are a referendum to remove the offence of blasphemy and perhaps a vote on directly elected mayors.


Although he is widely expected to stand again, President Michael D Higgins has said he will announce in 12 months’ time whether or not he wants a second term, meaning potential presidential candidates will have to declare for a contest beforehand.

European elections

Other referendums could take place alongside the local and European elections in June 2019, Mr Varadkar will tell colleagues.

These could include a poll on reducing the voting age to 16 and a referendum to reduce the waiting time required for a divorce from four years to two.

The Government accepted Fine Gael backbencher Josepha Madigan’s 35th amendment of the Constitution (Divorce) Bill 2016 in April.

Ms Madigan told The Irish Times she did not know the Government's plans but hoped the abortion referendum would be a standalone poll, rather than one which ran alongside another vote or votes.

“It’s such an emotive issue. My personal view is I think it should run alone. It’s so complex and complicated,” she said.

The Oireachtas committee examining the eighth amendment has begun public sessions and has three months to report back to Government with a proposed wording for a referendum.

It will discuss the constitutional issues raised by the report of the Citizens’ Assembly when it meets for the second time on Wednesday.

Assembly’s report

The committee was established to consider the assembly’s report, published in June, and its recommendations on the eighth amendment, which enshrined the equal right to life of the mother and the unborn into the Constitution in 1983.

It is expected to conclude its work by December 20th.

Mr Varadkar pledged to take student concerns about the timing of a referendum on abortion into account when setting a date for the vote when he spoke at Queen’s University Belfast in July.

Asked if he was aware many students wanted to see the vote take place outside the summer months, he said: “I definitely take the point and get the message that young people would like to have a referendum at a time that they are in the country so they can fully participate.”

A referendum on extending presidential voting rights to Irish citizens living outside the State and one on the European unified patent court are also expected to be scheduled provisionally.

Mr Varadkar previously suggested three sets of referendums could be run over the next 18 months to two years.

Mary Minihan

Mary Minihan

Mary Minihan is Features Editor of The Irish Times