Abortion debate cut short for second night as 20-TD quorum not met

Government risks ‘hornet’s nest’ if it does not go with repeal simpliciter option – Paul Murphy

Debate on abortion in the Dáil was cut short for a second night running after it proved impossible to reach a quorum of 20 TDs.

Independent TD Mattie McGrath called the quorum, requiring that a minimum of 20 TDs be in the chamber to allow the debate to continue.

Three Sinn Féin TDs – Jonathan O’Brien, Denise Mitchell and Pearse Doherty – supported the Government side by staying in the chamber to try to help it reach the required numbers.

However, Leas Cheann Comhairle Pat “The Cope” Gallagher adjourned the Dáil after a 15-minute delay when the target attendance could not be reached.


Minister for Business Heather Humphreys, Minister for Rural and Community Affairs Michael Ring and Minister of State Sean Kyne were among the Government TDs who joined Minister of State Jim Daly, who was representing the Government in the debate.

Mr McGrath, Independent Danny Healy-Rae and Fianna Fáil TD Éamon Ó Cuív stood in the gallery at the back of the chamber so they could not be included in the attendance.

Debate cut short

On Tuesday night, the debate was also cut short after the requisite number of TDs could not be reached. Mr McGrath said on Tuesday that it was “disgraceful” that people did not attend for such an important debate.

The Dáil has debated the report of the Oireachtas committee on the Eighth Amendment over four days to date and it will continue on Thursday.

Earlier, Solidarity TD Paul Murphy warned that the Government risked opening a "hornet's nest" if it did not go with a repeal simpliciter question on the Eighth Amendment and "potentially could cause a significant and completely unnecessary delay".

He said “The Government does not need to re-invent the wheel together with the Attorney General”.

Minister for Health Simon Harris said both the Citizens’ Assembly and the Oireachtas committee had sought legal advice and the Government would now consider all the legal issues.

But Mr Murphy said the assembly had “little time to debate the legal options and the advice it received wasn’t fully rounded”.

However, the Oireachtas committee “weighed and heard testimony from three legal experts and had its own legal adviser, who outlined six possible options”.

It was advised that legal certainty was not guaranteed with any option, but “the potential for legal challenge post-repeal on the basis of the implied rights of the unborn was outweighed by the fact that the people would have spoken quite clearly in the course of the referendum and that the dangers of inserting such a clause was outweighed by the benefits”.

‘Dangerous precedent’

The Dublin South West TD said “the dangers are that abortion legislation could be immunised from any potential challenge even from women who might be victims of it, that it might be seen by the electorate as setting a dangerous precedent for the separation of powers”.

The Government “would be wise to proceed with simple repeal as weighed up over months by the committee”.

Sinn Féin TD Peadar Tóibín said he took a different view on abortion to his party, which believed the Eighth Amendment should be repealed and abortion allowed in cases of life-limiting disability, rape, incest and a threat to the mother’s life and health.

“One in 20 pregnancies in Ireland end in abortion. In Britain, it is four in 20, so if we bring the British culture and the British law into this country, three out of 20 pregnancies that would reach full term here would no longer reach full term.

“Over generations, that is hundreds of thousands of lives saved by the Eighth Amendment.”

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran is Parliamentary Correspondent of The Irish Times