Why has Varadkar chosen to speak out on abortion now?

Analysis: Minister for Health’s speech an ‘honest account of his opinions’

Leo Varadkar chose his response to an abortion Bill tabled by Clare Daly, in which he all but said a referendum is needed someday to repeal the eighth amendment. Photograph: Aidan Crawley

Leo Varadkar chose his response to an abortion Bill tabled by Clare Daly, in which he all but said a referendum is needed someday to repeal the eighth amendment. Photograph: Aidan Crawley

 

Last night saw one of those rare Leinster House moments: a speech of significance during a private member’s debate - the usually formulaic motions put down by Opposition deputies and rejected by the Government.

Leo Varadkar gave a wide-ranging response to an abortion Bill tabled by Clare Daly in which he all but said a referendum would be necessary to repeal the eighth amendment, which gives equal rights to the mother and the unborn.

Mr Varadkar said the existing laws were too “restrictive” and had a “chilling effect” on doctors but added he didn’t want to see abortion on demand.

The big question is why he has chosen to outline his views now, since he had a similar opportunity to do so when asked in September. Perhaps he felt then he was still feeling his way into the Department of Health.

It probably would have been a charade if he didn’t, at some stage, express his clearly held views on the issue. The speech last night was an honest account of his opinions.

It is unlikely to be seen as Varadkar taking a ‘leadership position’ since his views would not be widely shared across Fine Gael, and probably not in the Taoiseach’s office either. Varadkar tipped off his ministerial colleagues in the party about what he was to say in advance, but it came as a surprise to many backbenchers.

While Varadkar thrives on his public reputation for being a straight talker, many in the party will not be thanking him this morning for dragging abortion up as an issue again, 18 months after Fine Gael was convulsed over the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill.

Ministers from the Taoiseach down will be asked if they share his views and if it now constitutes official party policy. They won’t be rushing to thank Varadkar for the early Christmas present, but it’s unlikely he will care too much.

The Minister was due to hold a press conference today to announce the appointment of the HSE’s new Chief Information Officer, but it has been postponed and is to be rescheduled.