An abortion referendum should be held “as early as possible’’, Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald has said.
Ms Fitzgerald said she believed it was in the interests of Irish women that the Dáil move forward with the issue and consider the legislative approach to be taken.
“We have a very, very bad history when it comes to women’s reproductive rights,’’ she said.
The Oireachtas is currently setting up a cross-party committee on abortion, which will report to the Dáil. This follows the decision of the Citizens’ Assembly to support a referendum to replace rather than repeal the Eight Amendment to the Constitution giving equal right to the life of the mother and the unborn.
The assembly also voted that abortion should be available in Ireland without restriction.
Ms Fitzgerald told the House yesterday the committee, representative of parties and independents, would consider the matter and the Dáil would then have to take a decision. She expected there would be a referendum after that.
She said abortion was a delicate and difficult issue for every individual, indeed for every society, in terms of what the legislative framework ought to be.
The Tánaiste was replying to Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald who said the issue, perhaps like no other, had been marked by the politics of delay, hypocrisy and that women must wait. She said it was 25 years since the X case, when “a raped, traumatised child was dragged through courts’’.
Since then, she said, there had been an “alphabet soup of tragedy and maltreatment of women, story after story piled high’’.
Yet, the political system stood still and looked the other way, she added.
Ms McDonald said the politics of delay could be tolerated no longer. She said the Tánaiste’s Cabinet colleague, Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Katherine Zappone, had voiced her support for a date to be set for a referendum.
“The Eight Amendment and its consequences impact on thousands of women,’’ Ms McDonald added. “It affects women and their families in every corner of the State.’’
She said for far too long women had been denied dignity, respect and basic services. “They had their voices silenced and their rights denied,’’ she added.
Ms McDonald said up to 10 women and girls left the State every day to avail of terminations abroad.
“That is the reality,’’ she added. “These are not just women on a spreadsheet or in a news report.’’
She said they were sisters, mothers and friends and Ireland could not continue to fail them.
“The Eight Amendment is a relic of the past,’’ said Ms McDonald. “It has to go and be replaced with compassion.’’
Ms Fitzgerald said a clear process had been laid out in terms of the House’s deliberations.
“It is a different procedure to decide on legislation as opposed to hearing the opinions of the Citizens’ Assembly,’’ she added. “No doubt, we will all take that into account.’’
Framing legislation and what might replace a referendum was a complex issue, she said.