Call for abortion vote delay over Citizens’ Assembly recruitment

Heated exchanges in Dáil but Simon Harris says voters will get their say on issue in May

Independent TD Mattie McGrath (right) claimed the Oireachtas committee on the Eighth Amendment was a ‘stitch up’. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times.

Independent TD Mattie McGrath (right) claimed the Oireachtas committee on the Eighth Amendment was a ‘stitch up’. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times.

 

A heated row erupted in the Dáil after calls were made for the abortion referendum to be delayed in the wake of a revelation that some participants in the Citizens’ Assembly were not recruited randomly.

Fianna Fáil TD Eamon Scanlon called for the referendum on the Eighth Amendment to be postponed because “the whole process is compromised” following the revelations about work done by recruiting firm RED C.

Exchanges in the Dáil became noisy and heated after Mr Scanlon said he had raised the issue with the Taoiseach about the exclusion of some counties from the panel. He said two people should have been picked from each county and the 47 others from the 99-member assembly should then have been selected appropriately.

“I genuinely believe this referendum should be postponed, that the whole process is compromised and I would call for a full and immediate audit of the entire Citizens’ Assembly recruitment process over the last 18 months because I think it has been compromised,” the Sligo-Leitrim TD said.

Responding, Sinn Féin health spokeswoman Louise O’Reilly said “this is utterly, utterly ridiculous. The matter has absolutely got nothing got to do with the referendum”.

Independent TD Mattie McGrath retorted that “we’ll not be dictated to by Sinn Féin bulldozing....”

But Leas Cheann Comhairle Pat ‘The Cope’ Gallagher then warned Mr McGrath that he would take action against him if he continued. “I’ll take action. I’m quite serious about this.There has to be some decorum in the House.”

‘Debacle’

Mr McGrath who first raised the issue, described as a “debacle” the recruitment process for members of the Citizens’ Assembly after it emerged that a recruiter for Red C selected seven people for the assembly by contacting friends and family to ask about suitable participants.

The Tipperary TD said 11 counties including his own had been excluded from the assembly and he questioned how that could be fair or democratic by any measure.

“Red C have accepted the 99 citizens couldn’t represent the whole country by their own admission so it’s a failure,” he said.

Claiming that the Oireachtas committee on the Eighth Amendment was a “stitch up”, Mr McGrath said there was “then a stuffed up Oireachtas committee that got you the bad answer” and he told the Minister for Health Simon Garris “you’ve got a lot to answer for”.

Mr Harris said “it would be entirely disingenuous to try and conflate the issue on the referendum on the Eighth Amendment with an issue regarding an error from Red C” which affected a discussion on an issue other than abortion.

‘Have their say’

Addressing Mr McGrath, he said: “I don’t know why you fear letting the people of Ireland have their say. That’s all I want. Let the people of Ireland have their say and they will have their say in May.”

After Mr Scanlon’s intervention and concern about the assembly recruitment process, the Minister told him the assembly had met and made its recommendations.

“Our colleagues in this House, people I respect regardless of what jersey they wear or don’t wear in terms of their politics, have carried out a process (in the Oireachtas committee),” he said. “Soon every citizen in every county will get their say on this issue and that’s the job of work we have to do. Give the people their say and let them have their say at the end of May.”

The seven people attended the assembly meeting of January 13th and 14th when it considered and voted on the manner in which referendums are held.

They did not attend or take part in earlier assembly meetings, when it considered abortion, after which an Oireachtas committee was established to consider the findings of the Citizens’ Assembly.