No referendum on abortion in this Government’s lifetime - Tánaiste

Mistakes of the past will be repeated if 31-year-old decision not revisited, says Independent TD

Tánaiste Joan Burton has effectively ruled out the possibility of a referendum, in the lifetime of this Government, on abortion in cases of rape, incest and fatal foetal abnormalities.

Ms Burton said that while she personally would like to see a situation where it was possible to address fatal foetal abnormalities, “we do not have agreement on that in the programme for government”.

Independent TD Catherine Murphy said “we stand to repeat the mistakes of the past if we do not act to address the grossly discriminatory laws that govern abortion”.

Referring to the UN Human Rights Committee hearings this week in Geneva, Ms Murphy said the UN confirmed that Ireland was in breach of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights by denying women the option to avail of abortion in circumstances of rape, incest, fatal foetal abnormalities and where a woman’s health is in danger.


The Kildare North TD said Ireland was in breach of basic humanity in denying an abortion to a woman who had been raped, suffered incest or whose baby would not survive after birth.

She added: “I found it profoundly chilling to listen to the remarks of the principal officer in the Department of Health who told the committee that denying these women the right to abortion was the will of the people.”

Ms Murphy said the eighth amendment to the Constitution was introduced more than 30 years ago and attitudes had changed significantly since then as recent polls had shown. “It is inhumane and we cannot rely on a 31-year-old referendum decision.”

The Tánaiste said that “as a democrat, the Deputy must recognised that the people voted” in the 1983 referendum. The Government had dealt with issues from the X case.

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran is Parliamentary Correspondent of The Irish Times