Taoiseach distances himself from Leo Varadkar abortion comments

Enda Kenny says Minister for Health spoke ‘in a personal capacity and now is not the time to seek constitutional change

Taoiseach Enda Kenny has distanced himself from Minister for Health Leo Varadkar’s call for a new abortion referendum saying now is not the time to look at the issue of constitutional change.

Mr Kenny also said that Mr Varadkar was speaking in a personal capacity when he told the Dáil on Tuesday evening that the current constitutional provision on abortion is too restrictive.

The Taoiseach also pointed out that in the 1980s the country was convulsed for several years about the issue of abortion.

“I don’t think we need that kind of divisive debate,” he said in an interview with political correspondents at Leinster House yesterday.

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“This is obviously a very sensitive and a very complex issue and it’s always difficult to talk to families who have to go through a range of issues and emotions.

“Now the constitutional amendment was back in 1983. The Supreme Court made its ruling in 1991. We had 20 years of no government facing up to the interpretation of the constitution by the Supreme Court.

“The Government faced up to this and made a number of decisions in regard to the legislation for the protection of life and clearly that was very difficult for people in my own party but we did face up to it.”

He said that the legislation was relatively new and would have to be assessed and monitored very carefully.

“There are always unforeseen kinds of circumstances, kinds of cases that can arise and I do think that it is important to have an understanding of the difficulties that people go through here.

“I also think it is important to look at the circumstances of cases that fall outside the range of that legislation which does bring clarity to medical practiconers in life threatening circumstances. That was the basis of a great deal of discussion with experts and opinion makers last year.

“I don’t believe that in the absence of really verifiable medical evidence and information that we should be looking at the issue of constitutional change now.

“I think it is necessary to assess the impact of the legislation currently. I think it is important to be respectful with a sense of dignity and rational discussion about all of these.”

Mr Kenny said he recalled that in the 80s when the country was “convulsed for several years about the question of abortion in general”.

“I don’t think we need that kind of divisive debate.”

“So as it’s is important to know that you can’t foresee the range of circumstances that apply here. I am aware of one at the moment which is very difficult.

“So given that the Government was the first in over 20 years to actually deal with this and carry out the direction of the Supreme Court to legislate for what the people put into the constitution. I think we have to monitor this and assess this legislation very carefully and very sensitively.”

Mr Kenny said issues that arose on an irregular basis and the difficulty in dealing with them outside “the limits of the legislation” also needed to be looked at.

Mr Kenny said Mr Varadkar was speaking as a Minister for Health “but he was speaking in a personal capacity as well”.

The Taoiseach said the Minister had pointed out that the Government would be voting against the proposition in the Dáil.

“If you consider the debates of last year many people had a range of difficulties with the legislation but government did face up to that legislating in as comprehensive and a sensitive way as we could.”