Majority of Senators set to back repeal of Eighth Amendment
Anti-abortion advocates hoping Seanad will see stiff resistance to referendum Bill
It is likely that the Government will seek to publish as much information as possible about the contents of the proposed legislation before the referendum.
The forthcoming Bill to hold a referendum is likely to pass through the Seanad with little difficulty, despite reports that anti-abortion Senators would seek to block it.
Although there is a large majority among declared votes in the Dáil for the repeal of the Eighth Amendment, anti-abortion campaigners hope the Seanad will see much stronger resistance to the Bill, expected to be tabled by the Government in February.
A referendum Bill must be passed by the Dáil and Seanad before the people can be asked to change the Constitution in a referendum.
However, the latest count on The Irish Times referendum tracker, which tracks the declared views of TDs and Senators on repeal, shows there is already a majority in the Upper House for repeal.
In response to questions from The Irish Times, 30 Senators (a bare majority in the 60-seat chamber, given that the Cathaoirleach does not vote) have already affirmed their support for repeal, with 10 Senators against and 19 undeclared.
Though several who remain undeclared are thought likely to oppose repeal, these numbers mean that were a referendum Bill to be put before the Seanad now, it would pass.
It is expected that next week’s Cabinet meeting – to be held on Tuesday, January 30th – will decide formally to hold a referendum and also to give Minister for Health Simon Harris approval to draft a referendum Bill and proposed legislation to give effect to recommendations of the Oireachtas committee.
This second piece of legislation – which is being called the “health Bill” in Government circles – cannot be brought to the Oireachtas unless a referendum to change the Constitution is passed. However, it is likely that the Government will seek to publish as much information as possible about the contents of the proposed legislation before the referendum.
This is the Bill that will legalise abortion up to 12 weeks, if the referendum is carried.
Meanwhile, sources have confirmed the Government will also choose next week whether to propose a simple deletion of the Eighth Amendment from the Constitution, or whether to include a provision enabling the Oireachtas to legislate for abortion.
Last week, The Irish Times reported on the emerging view in Government that such an enabling provision was likely to form part of the referendum proposal, though the Cabinet has yet to receive definitive advice from the Attorney General and no final decision has been made.
Government sources confirmed the “remove and enable” option was most likely to be adopted by Government, though one source conceded the simple repeal proposition was more easily understandable and therefore more politically acceptable from the Government’s viewpoint.
But the advice being given to the Government is likely to stress the need for caution and for the final proposal to be proofed against future legal challenge.
The Dáil will continue to debate the committee’s report this week, with time set aside for TDs to speak on the subject on Tuesday night, and again on Thursday afternoon.