Majority Fine Gael view on abortion referendum expected

Taoiseach likely to back repeal of amendment at special parliamentary party meeting

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar: yet to state where he stands on the amendment introduced in 1983 to underpin Ireland’s anti-abortion laws but is expected to favour  repeal. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar: yet to state where he stands on the amendment introduced in 1983 to underpin Ireland’s anti-abortion laws but is expected to favour repeal. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

The views of the majority of Fine Gael TDs and Senators on the repeal of the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution are likely to emerge on Monday, when the parliamentary party discusses the issue at a special meeting in Leinster House. This includes Taoiseach and party leader Leo Varadkar, who has yet to state where he stands on repealing the controversial amendment introduced in 1983 to underpin Ireland’s anti-abortion laws.

He is expected to come down in favour of repeal.

Thirty of the party’s 50 TDs are undeclared, but those who have already outlined their position publicly, or responded to the tracker poll in The Irish Times, reveal a large majority in favour of repeal.

Check the referendum tracker here:

irishtimes.com/news/politics/referendum-tracker

Seventeen TDs are in favour, with just three opposed.

Overall, given cross-party and Independent declarations to date, Oireachtas members are likely to back the repeal with a large majority when it comes to a vote in the Dáil and Seanad.

So far, an estimated 46 per cent of declared TDs favour repeal, with 15 per cent opposed. An estimated 45 per cent of declared Senators support repeal, with 5 per cent against.

Three-day debate

The Dáil will begin a three-day debate on Tuesday on the report of the Oireachtas Committee on the Eighth Amendment when some more of the undeclared TDs are expected to reveal how they will vote.

The referendum on the issue is due to take place in May or June.

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection and Fine Gael TD for Meath East Regina Doherty, who was initially among the undeclared in the poll, has revealed she is in favour of repeal.

The undecided Fine Gael TDs have been taking soundings in their constituencies over the weekend.

“Pressure from both sides on the repeal issue is very strong, particularly in some constituencies,’’ said a Fine Gael TD. “With an election likely this year, TDs are living a pressure-cooker existence.’’

TDs said the pressure did not seem as intense as it was for former colleagues in 1983. “But it is early days yet,’’ said a TD.

A number of the Fine Gael TDs supporting the repeal said last night they expected Mr Varadkar will come down firmly on their side.

Sensitive issue

“Given the sensitivity of the issue, I think he wanted to give his colleagues space to reach a decision,’’ said a TD.

“Not declaring his own position meant TDs were not under pressure to automatically follow the party leader.’’

A majority of Fianna Fáil TDs who have declared their positions oppose repeal.

Twenty-one of the party’s 44 TDs have not declared their views, but of the 23 who have stated their position, 17 are against repeal and six in favour.

Leas Cheann Comhairle and Donegal TD Pat “The Cope’’ Gallagher and Louth TD Declan Breathnach, who were among the undecided, said they would oppose repeal.

Labour, Green Party, People Before Profit/Solidarity and Social Democrat TDs back repeal, as do Sinn Féin TDs, except for Meath West TD Peadar Tóibín.

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.