Abortion will not be legal until January 2019 at the earliest, Varadkar says
Government lays out timetable for implementation of referendum result
Minister for Health Simon Harris. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA
The Dáil is likely to shorten its summer recess to allow an abortion Bill to be debated, but the legalisation of abortion will not be in place until the beginning of next year at the earliest.
Both Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Minister for Health Simon Harris addressed TDs in the Dáil on Tuesday and stressed the Government’s intention to push ahead with legislation and other arrangements to provide for abortion services in Ireland in accordance with the weekend’s referendum.
However, both men also outlined a number of steps that need to be taken over the coming months, and Mr Varadkar said that it would be January 2019 at the earliest before the legislation is fully operational.
“We are still anticipating that even with the best intentions, it will be the end of the year, January 1st, 2019, before we give full effect to the will of the people. The legislation might be through in October or November, but it will be January before we will be able to give effect to the new regime,” Mr Varadkar said.
Mr Harris brought a memorandum to cabinet on Tuesday in the wake of the referendum result, asking for formal permission to draft the abortion Bill and also briefed his Cabinet colleagues on his timetable for the next steps.
He also intends to meet with Opposition leaders on Thursday to discuss cross-party co-operation over the coming months.
Mr Harris told colleagues that there are three separate areas where work will now commence to give effect to the decision of the referendum.
Officials in the Department of Health and the Attorney General’s office will draft the legislation which is intended to be published in about six weeks. Once completed and published, the Dáil may extend its July sitting to complete the second stage (ie, the first Dáil debate) before it rises for the summer recess.
Mr Varadkar indicated that the health committee could then begin the next stage of the process during the summer holidays, allowing the Bill to return to the Dáil in September or October.
Once it passes its final stage in the Dáil, it will transfer to the Seanad. However, even if passed in October by the Oireachtas, the Government does not expect the legalisation of abortion to be in place until the new year.
Mr Varadkar said that clinical guidelines will also have to be drawn up by the the Irish College of General Practitioners, the Institute of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, and the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland.
Meetings between the professional medical bodies and officials from the Department of Health took place on Tuesday.
In addition, abortion pills will have to be licensed by the Health Products Regulatory Authority,
Mr Varadkar warned that the Government should “act with haste but not too much haste” in case “we put through bad legislation”.
Responding to Opposition calls for aspects of the prohibition on abortion to be repealed before the full legislation is passed, Mr Varadkar said the Government was willing to consider that, but that it would delay the production of the substantive Bill.