Doctors in Ireland could be allowed refer women to the UK for abortions in the coming months ahead of planned new services here in January, Minister for Health Simon Harris has signalled.
The abortion referendum Bill is expected to be signed by President Michael D Higgins next week following a ruling on Friday by the Supreme Court blocking any further legal challenges to last May’s referendum result.
Responding to the judgment, Mr Harris said he would work on contingency plans for the imminent provision of pregnancy terminations before the end of the year.
“I will return to Cabinet this month to seek final approval for the Bill, and I would hope to seek final approval in the Dáil in the month of October,” he said.
“So we remain firmly on track to introduce new services in this country from January next year.
“I am also looking to see what we can do in advance of January, particularly in relation to allowing doctors to refer women to the UK while we are getting services ready here for the new year.”
Speaking ahead of his appearance at the Kennedy Summer School in New Ross, Co Wexford, Mr Harris said he very much welcomed Friday’s ruling by the Supreme Court, which allows for the constitutional ban on abortion to be removed.
“The people of Ireland spoke very clearly on this matter in May and they gave an instruction to myself and my colleagues in the Oireachtas to change the law and make sure we can care for women in our own country with compassion,” he said.
“That’s exactly what we now intend to do.”
Meanwhile a prominent priest has congratulated abortion campaigners for winning the referendum and questioned whether the result sounded the death knell of the Catholic Church in Ireland.
Fr Joe McDonald, parish priest at St Matthew’s in Ballyfermot, also criticised bishops for saying clerical sex abuse will never happen again, insisting it already does and will in the future.
Speaking at the Kennedy Summer School, Fr McDonald told an audience that his co-panelist during a discussion Deirdre Duffy, manager of the Together for Yes abortion referendum campaign, had done great work.
“I have to admire that wonderful work done there, and even congratulate the campaign on its success and so on,” he said.
Referring to the role of priests in a radically changed Ireland in the 21st century, the former Christian Brother who switched to priesthood later in life said he would not regret the end of the church itself.
“I don’t lament and I’m not sorry at all for the death of an institution that was abusive or misogynistic,” he said to applause .
He was applauded again when he added “the sooner the better” the church “gets our head and nose out of State affairs and allow the State be the State.”
“To me there is a bell ringing: is it the death knell?” he said.
“It is certainly a wounded church. Some of the wounds of course are self inflicted.
Fr McDonald, one of only two priests who accompanied Pope Francis during his meeting with victims of clerical sex abuse in Dublin last month, said the church is paying the price for its power structures and failing to convey the gospel.