Cabinet to discuss Oireachtas Committee report on abortion

Simon Harris to bring memo to today’s meeting laying out likely steps before a referendum

The Cabinet is to discuss the report of the Oireachtas Committee on abortion at its meeting on Wednesday morning as preparations continue for a likely referendum before the summer.

The Minister for Health, Simon Harris, will bring a memo to the Cabinet's first meeting of 2018 laying out the likely steps before a referendum which Mr Harris will tell colleagues can be held in either late May or early June.

Mr Harris will inform the Cabinet that his officials will continue to draft legislation in accordance with the recommendations of the Oireachtas Committee, legalising abortion on request up to 12 weeks of pregnancy, leaving other options aside.

The legislation cannot be brought to the Dáil unless a referendum to amend the Constitution is passed later this year, but Mr Harris will inform his Cabinet colleagues that he expects to be in a position to seek their formal approval for a referendum as early as the end of this month.


The general scheme – or heads – of the abortion legislation will be published to inform the referendum debate.

While no formal Government decision will be taken yet to hold a referendum, there is growing political momentum towards a vote.


However, it is not yet clear what the wording of such a referendum would be. According to sources familiar with the issue, the Government is awaiting legal advice from the Attorney General before it decides whether to propose deleting article 40.3.3 – which guarantees the equal right of the unborn child and the mother – of the Constitution entirely, or whether it will propose replacing the article with another article specifically authorising the Oireachtas to legislate on the issue.

The Dáil will debate the committee's report for three days next week, and the Fine Gael parliamentary party will also discuss the report when it meets this day week.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said he will listen to the views of Fine Gael TDs before he states his own position, but there is a growing expectation in Government circles that Mr Varadkar will back the committee's proposals for general access to abortion up to 12 weeks.

Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe became the seventh Cabinet Minister yesterday to support terminations up to 12 weeks, while a number have yet to state a position.

Twelve weeks

Mr Donohoe said he agreed with the report of the Oireachtas Committee on the Eighth Amendment, which recommended that abortion be allowed up to 12 weeks without restriction.

“I believe the committee’s report and the recommendations that are contained in it should be put to the people and I support the recommendations that are in the committee’s report.”

In an indication, however, of the divided views in Fine Gael on the issue, Patrick O'Donovan, Minister of State in the Department of Finance, said he had a "different view" to Mr Donohoe, although he would not fully detail his position.

“Every household in the country is going to have views on this. I have a different view to Minister Donohoe on this, and I’ll be articulating my view later on,” he said.

A spokesman for Tánaiste Simon Coveney said he will not make any comment on his own views before the Cabinet and Fine Gael parliamentary party discussed the issue. However, the spokesman said Mr Coveney had spoken in "some depth" to Mr Varadkar on the issue over the new year. Mr Coveney has previously said the recommendations of the Citizens' Assembly, which paved the way for the Oireachtas committee, went too far.