Taoiseach says his preference is for May referendum on abortion

Thousands of students will be ‘deprived of a vote’ if vote in June, says Bríd Smith

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said he would prefer to hold the referendum on abortion next May to maximise participation. He said however that "it is not something that is fully under my control".

Mr Varadkar pointed out that based on the process involved “the earliest we can hold the referendum is May”. But “ultimately the Oireachtas will decide the date of the referendum, not the Government”.

People Before Profit TD Bríd Smith expressed concern in the Dáil that if the referendum was held in June thousands of students would be deprived of a vote because they would have left the State after their exams, to find summer work abroad.

Ms Smith said that among the tens of thousands at the demonstration for choice in Dublin last weekend were thousands of students concerned about the timing of the referendum. She said they “would like to see it happen during the academic year rather than the proposed date of June 8th mooted by the Taoiseach”.


“Having campaigned very vigorously for the first time in their lives to have choice over their own bodily autonomy and a say in this important matter they would be deprived of a vote”.

Independent TD Mattie McGrath intervened to say “they can vote if they come back”.

Ms Smith pointed out that the vote on the same-sex marriage referendum took place in May and she asked Mr Varadkar to “commit to doing your best to have the vote when the students are still around rather than when they would exit the country”.

The Taoiseach said “it is very much my preference that the referendum be held in May rather than June in order that we maximise the number who will be able to participate in it”.

He had met student groups and told them this. The all-party committee would make a recommendation on whether there should be a referendum and on the wording. They would require legislation and a referendum commission as well as time for a campaign. May was the earliest time and this was his preference but it was up to the Oireachtas to decide.

Raising the issue, Ms Smith had quipped that “even somebody as well known, media savvy and dynamic as the Taoiseach could easily have been missed at the massive demonstration for choice that took place in Dublin last Saturday”.

The Taoiseach said he had not “received such praise from the far left before” and that he liked her charm offensive.

Ms Smith told him “I was slagging. It’s not a charm offensive.”

Mr Varadkar said “I thank you nonetheless”.

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran is Parliamentary Correspondent of The Irish Times