Citizens’ Assembly abortion proposals fail to move Coveney

Minister uncomfortable with the body’s recommendations on the issue

Fine Gael leadership contender Simon Coveney has said he does not support the recommendations of the Citizen's Assembly on abortion.

Mr Coveney said he was uncomfortable with some of the proposals made by the body, which suggested abortion should be available in Ireland without restriction up to 12 weeks.

His main leadership rival, Minister for Social Protection Leo Varadkar, declined to comment on the specific recommendations.

Mr Varadkar has previously stated he does not favour abortion on request but supports terminations in the cases of fatal foetal abnormalities and when a mother’s life is at risk.

When asked by The Irish Times yesterday if he supported the assembly's proposals, Mr Varadkar said they were sincerely held and different views held by members of each of the political parties and a respectful debate was required.

The assembly supported holding a referendum to replace rather than repeal the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution,which gives equal right to the life of the mother and the unborn.

Its recommendations are to be debated at an Oireachtas committee, whose proposals will then be voted on by the Dáil.

Need for change

Mr Coveney said he accepted the need for changes to be made to abortion laws in this country. However, he said he would not support any approach that could “effectively facilitate abortion on demand”.

The Minister added: “That is not something I would vote for or support. But I also recognise that the status quo needs to change and that it is in the case of some very complex and difficult issues and involving women in crisis pregnancies, the State needs to take a new and very different approach.”

The Minister said his views are not consistent with some of the recommendations that the assembly made but he did not detail which proposals he had difficulties with.

The comments follow a refusal by the Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin to support terminations in the cases of rape and incest. Mr Martin said these were complex issues which could not be answered with a straight yes or no answer.

The position on abortion has been placed back on the political agenda due to the assembly recommendations and could become a point of contention during the leadership debate within Fine Gael.

Many within the party favour changes to the current legislation but would not favour abortion on request.

Mr Varadkar and Mr Coveney both said they would like a referendum on the issue to be held next year.

Voting rights

Mr Coveney said he hoped other votes could be facilitated on the same day, including extending voting rights in presidential elections to Ireland’s diaspora.

An Oireachtas committee has been tasked with examining the recommendations of the Citizen’s Assembly. Its make-up has yet to be finalised.

In a statement, Mr Varadkar said he would not make his decision on the issue on abortion until the committee concluded its deliberations.

“Over the next few months, the all-party Oireachtas committee will consider the assembly’s advice and refine it into a proposal that can be put to the people. I believe that once this has been done, a final proposal should be put in a referendum in 2018 so that the people can have their say.”