Cabinet takes first legislative step in Eighth Amendment referendum

Ministers considers draft heads of Bill which contains wording of referendum question

A Referendum Commission will be established within a matter of days of the Bill’s introduction.   Photo: Sam Boal

A Referendum Commission will be established within a matter of days of the Bill’s introduction. Photo: Sam Boal

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The Government has taken the first significant legislative step in preparation for a referendum on the Eighth Amendment.

At Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting, Ministers were presented with the draft heads of a referendum Bill which contained three specific clauses.

The first is proposing Article 40.3.3 of the Constitution, which gives the mother and the unborn an equal right to life, be repealed and replaced with an enabling provision.

The second clarifies that this proposal is the 36th change to the Constitution and will be called the Constitutional Amendment Bill.

The referendum Bill will be introduced in the Dáil on March 8th, on International Women’s Day

The third provides the wording of the question, which is to repeal the Eighth Amendment and allow the Oireachtas to provide for the termination of pregnancy in accordance with law.

Approval

Minister for Health Simon Harris was given approval to prepare the final draft of the Bill, in line with the Cabinet direction.

The referendum Bill will be returned to Cabinet on March 6th and, if agreed, the heads of the Bill will be published on that date.

This will provide clarity on what the Government proposes the question should be that people are asked in a referendum. The final wording will not be known until the Oireachtas passes the Bill.

Mr Harris will also bring a “policy paper” to Cabinet on March 6th. That paper will set out the legislative parameters as to what will replace the Eighth Amendment, in the event it is repealed. It will also be published on that date, if it is agreed.

The referendum Bill will be introduced in the Dáil on March 8th, on International Women’s Day.

A Referendum Commission will be established within a matter of days of the Bill’s introduction.

The Dáil is expected to rise for a week to allow Ministers travel abroad for St Patrick’s Day. On their return, the Referendum Bill will be debated in the Dáil and the Seanad. It is the Government’s ambition that it will be passed by the end of March.

Polling date

Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy will then be asked to set a polling date, which must be no earlier than 30 days and no later than 90 days after the Bill has passed.

The Referendum Commission will then be in a position to begin a public awareness campaign .

The final legislative step that will be taken is the publication of the heads of a Bill.

This will give a legal basis to the Government’s proposed replacement of the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill, should the Eighth Amendment referendum be passed.

There is no date for that Bill’s publication but Mr Harris told Cabinet on Tuesday that he expects to be in a position to do that at the end of March or beginning of April.

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