For many months, Irish Times/Ipsos polls have shown an overwhelming majority of the public are in favour of at least some liberalisation of Ireland's strict anti-abortion laws. Now a survey of TDs shows these attitudes are reflected in the Dáil.
The Dáil will back a repeal of the Eighth Amendment, which prohibits abortion in almost all cases, by a huge majority, according data compiled by The Irish Times for our Abortion Referendum Tracker.
Even many TDs who do not favour the deletion of the constitutional ban on abortion will support the holding of a referendum, they say. The scale of the majority suggested by our survey suggests that the holding of a referendum is now a foregone conclusion; a proposal to hold a referendum – which must be passed by the Dáil – would pass easily, the numbers suggest.
Repeal will have broad political support when that referendum comes.
The Irish Times emailed every TD and senator last week with a request to state their position on the proposed repeal of the Eighth Amendment. TDs who did not reply were later contacted by text message. Though most responded, some did not declare how they intended to vote. In some cases, where individual TDs did not respond to the survey, it was possible to discern their attitudes through previous statements or votes in the Oireachtas. The results will be updated as they change in the coming days and weeks.
Check the referendum tracker here:
Almost half of all TDs said they were in favour of repeal, with just 15 per cent saying they opposed the measure. Just under 40 per cent of TDs either have not made up their minds or did not respond.
Fine Gael TDs had by far the largest proportion of undeclared voters. Of the party's 50 TDs, some 31 did not say which way they would vote. However, among the Fine Gael TDs who expressed a preference, there was a huge majority in favour of repeal – 16 in favour to just three against.
A high proportion of Fianna Fáil TDs also did not say whether they were in favour or not – 23 out of the party's 44 TDs (including Ceann Comhairle Sean Ó Fearghaíl).
However, it is clear Fianna Fáil is the most anti-abortion party. Of the 21 TDs who declared a position, 15 said they opposed the repeal of the amendment, though many also expressed support for the holding of a referendum to allow voters to have their say.
Six Fianna Fáil TDs said they would support repeal. Twenty three said they had not made up their minds, preferred not to say or did not respond to queries.
All Sinn Féin TDs except Meath West deputy Peadar Tóibín support the repeal of the Eighth. Mr Tóibín said that while his party was in favour, he would oppose the measure at the ballot box.
The seven Labour TDs, six People before Profit/Solidarity, two Green and two Social Democrat TDs all support repeal. Of the remaining 23 Independent and small-party TDs, 12 are in favour of repeal, five against and six are undeclared.
When the aggregate numbers are looked at, 73 TDs say they are in favour of repeal, with 15 per cent against. At this point, 38 per cent are undeclared, though that number can be expected to fall rapidly in the coming days.
Both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil will discuss the issue at their parliamentary party meetings in the coming days (Fine Gael is holding a special meeting on Monday) and the Dáil will debate the report of the Oireachtas Committee on the Eighth Amendment for three days next week.
A slightly lower proportion of senators responded to the request from The Irish Times. Half either did not respond or reserved their position, but of those who expressed a view, a huge majority were in favour of repeal.
Twenty six senators back repeal, with just three saying (in response to The Irish Times questions or previously) that they are opposed. Twenty nine senators remain undeclared.
Several TDs and senators – both those in favour or repeal and those against – expressed concern about the proposals of the Oireachtas committee to legalise abortion on request up to 12 weeks in pregnancy.
The Government is expected to publish the heads – a general summary – of a Bill to provide for abortion which would be tabled in the Dáil in the event that the referendum to change the Constitution is passed. A number of TDs in all parties said they wanted to see this legislation as part of the process.
What is the Eighth Amendment?
Article 40.3.3 of the Constitution, also known as the Eighth Amendment, was inserted into the Constitution after a referendum in 1983. The amendment guarantees to protect as far as practicable the equal right to life of the unborn and the mother.
It states: “The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right.”
This article was interpreted by the Supreme Court in its judgment in the X case in March 1992. It ruled that abortion is permissible in the State where the continuation of the pregnancy poses a real and substantial risk to the life, as opposed to the health, of the mother and where such a risk could not be averted except by means of an abortion. A substantial risk to the life of the mother included a risk of suicide.