Taoiseach says ‘scenario planning’ in place on referendum

Plans in place to carry out Oireachtas committee recommendation on vote question

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar urged Fine Gael party members to work together, regardless of their position on the Eighth Amendment, to allow for a respectful debate to take place. File photograph: Getty Images

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar urged Fine Gael party members to work together, regardless of their position on the Eighth Amendment, to allow for a respectful debate to take place. File photograph: Getty Images

 

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has confirmed the Government is preparing legislation to allow for the outcome of the Oireachtas committee on the Eighth Amendment.

Mr Varadkar and Minister for Health Simon Harris met with the Fine Gael members of the committee on Wednesday night to discuss the work of the committee and how it is proceeding.

The Taoiseach did not declare his preferred outcome or issue a direction to the Fine Gael TDs and Senators, several people present said. However, he did urge party members to work together, regardless of their position on the matter, to allow for a respectful debate to take place.

Chair of the committee Catherine Noone assured the Taoiseach it would complete its work by December 20th amid concerns it may be too tight a timeframe.

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Chair of the Oireachtas committee on the Eighth Amendment Catherine Noone assured the Taoiseach it would complete its work by December 20th amid concerns it may be too tight a timeframe. File photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons
Chair of the Oireachtas committee on the Eighth Amendment Catherine Noone assured the Taoiseach it would complete its work by December 20th amid concerns it may be too tight a timeframe. File photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

Mr Varadkar told the meeting that the Department of Health and the Attorney General have been preparing legislation to allow for any possible outcome to the committee’s deliberations. While he accepted there is unlikely to be unanimous agreement at the committee, the Taoiseach said there will be a majority recommendation and the Government must be prepared to act on that decision.

No delay

Mr Varadkar described this as scenario planning and is aimed at ensuring there is no delay to a potential referendum.

Minister for Health Simon Harris also wrote to the Oireachtas committee to advise them of the preparation underway in his department. This was not an attempt to supersede the work of the members but to ensure the department was adequately prepared, the Minister said. The Government has committed to holding a referendum on the Eighth Amendment, which places the life of the unborn on an equal footing to the mother, in May or June.

The question to be put to the electorate is yet unknown and is likely to be based on the recommendations of the Oireachtas committee.

At a meeting of Fine Gael Ministers recently, it was agreed a direction from the committee would be politically beneficial, but it is understood Mr Varadkar did not express that view at the meeting with committee members on Wednesday.

Ministers have stated they do not believe the recommendations of the Citizens’ Assembly for the legalisation of abortion will pass “party, Dáil or country” and would have to be significantly amended.

Legislating for general access to abortion up to 12 weeks into a pregnancy, would not be supported by the Fine Gael party, would not pass a vote in the Dáil and would not be passed by the electorate in a referendum, Fine Gael Ministers have claimed.