Enda Kenny to bring memo to Cabinet on abortion assembly

Ruth Coppinger says abortion assembly a ‘charade’ and accuses Kenny of not listening

Taoiseach Enda Kenny will bring a memo to Cabinet next week setting up a citizens’ assembly on abortion.

He told the Dáil he had briefed his Ministers on this at the weekly Cabinet meeting earlier yesterday, adding the programme for government contained a commitment it be set up within six months.

Mr Kenny said he did not believe a referendum removing the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution, which enshrines the equal right to life of a woman and a foetus, would be carried if it was held next October.

“There needs to be a real discussion here,” he said. People would want to know what was going to replace it, he added.


Mr Kenny said the Eighth Amendment would be the first item for reflection by the assembly. “It is pointless rushing into a constitutional referendum unless there is a realistic consensus on whatever change might be recommended here.”

The Taoiseach said whatever emerged from the assembly would come back to an Oireachtas committee with access to appropriate experts. "Out of that will come recommendations for change or not," he added.

“If there is a consensus and people have a vote, they will have the right to vote according to their conscience.”


He said he did not want to see the process delayed into the future, as some people alleged.

“These are serious and sensitive matters that need to be reflected on,” said the Taoiseach.

Mr Kenny was replying to Socialist Party TD Ruth Coppinger, who referred to the United Nations Human Rights Committee's finding that Amanda Mellet, who was carrying a foetus with a fatal abnormality, had been subjected to discrimination and "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment" in the Republic.

Ms Coppinger said other EU states dealt with the issue, as did others around the world.

"Lots of these states do not have the luxury of a Ryanair plane out of the country to deal with it for them," she added. States with most difficulty dealing with abortion tended to be ones dominated by the Catholic Church, she said.

She claimed the Taoiseach had not listened to women for years on the issue, adding that a citizens’ assembly would be a charade.

It was unbelievable, said Ms Coppinger, that having received such a stern rebuke the Taoiseach was going to continue with the delaying tactic of an assembly.

She said Mr Kenny had not listened to women when Savita Halappanavar died.

"At that time, rather than saying it was absolutely necessary to repeal the Eighth Amendment to protect the health of women, he proceeded to bring in a draconian law of which the likes of Donald Trump would be proud," she said, adding Mr Trump "could only dream of imposing a 14-year jail sentence on a woman having an abortion or trying to help another woman have an abortion."

She said nobody was suggesting a referendum should take place on the following day, as it was obvious there should be a period of debate. However, there was already a consensus, she added.


“The consensus has always been that the Eighth Amendment should be removed from the Constitution on the basis that it should never have been included in the first place,” Ms Coppinger added.

Mr Kenny said he did not think Ms Coppinger or anybody else was entitled to judge the electorate who voted for the Constitution or who voted to amend it. The UN committee’s verdict in “this sensitive and distressing” case was non-binding, he said.

Michael O'Regan

Michael O'Regan

Michael O’Regan is a former parliamentary correspondent of The Irish Times