Varadkar dismisses need to spell out his view on abortion law

‘I want to actually know what the question is, before asking people to say yes or no to it’

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said part of leadership was to listen “and I want to listen to public opinion”. Photograph: Dave Meehan

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said part of leadership was to listen “and I want to listen to public opinion”. Photograph: Dave Meehan

 

Leo Varadkar has dismissed suggestions that Micheál Martin’s declaration of support for repealing the Eighth Amendment had put pressure on the Taoiseach to make his stance known.

Speaking on a visit in Limerick, Mr Varadkar said his role as Taoiseach was to make sure the wording of the referendum was “sound”, arguing that this mattered more than his personal opinion.

Asked whether it was time for him to make his position clear, following Mr Martin’s statement, Mr Varadkar replied: “I’ve always said I believe this is a very personal and private issue, and that I want there to be a respectful debate over the next number of months.

“I’ve said before that I believe our laws are too restrictive and need to be reformed and need to be liberalised, and of course, that requires a change to the constitution.

“But, part of leadership is [TO LISTEN)], and I want to listen to public opinion, the citizens assembly, my own party members, and also listen to the debate in the Dáil and Seanad”.

He said he had “a particular responsibility as Taoiseach to make sure that the wording — the actual question that we put to the people — is the right one; that it’s sound; and that it isn’t going to be open to interpretation or challenge because it is a question that I as Taoiseach and as Government will put to the people.

“So I want to actually know what that question is, before asking people to say yes or no to it.”

Asked whether Mr Martin’s declaration had put more pressure on him to make his views known, Mr Varadkar replied: “No, I don’t believe so. We are going to have a referendum this summer, all things going to plan.

“People will know the wording in the next couple of weeks, so they will know the opinion of all the leaders of the political parties, long before the referendum.

“But I actually don’t think the public are going to decide how they feel about this issue, based on what politicians think. This is a personal, private, issue and I think we need to be respectful of people’s opinions.”

The Taoiseach said he did not know how soon he would have the wording available for the referendum.

“I’m waiting obviously for the advice from the Attorney General on this. I think it’s important to have that advice. That wasn’t done back in 1983 - so I think it’s important that I have the advice of the Attorney General before we put a specific question to Cabinet.

“But, I want to have this referendum in the summer and I want the question put to the people so they can decide whether we are going to change our constitution or not. So, I’d expect us to be able to do that in a matter of weeks.”