Taoiseach Refuses to Declare Position on Abortion Plans
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has refused to declare whether he will back the extreme recommendations of the Oireachtas abortion committee. He said he, and the rest of the government, would “spend the Christmas period understanding [the committee’s report]”. The Fine Gael parliamentary party will meet in early January to discuss the report before it is debated in the Dáil and by Cabinet.
In a sign that he expects to face significant opposition to the abortion committee’s recommendations—that abortion be permitted on demand up to 12 weeks and without a time limit if the baby has a serious life-limiting condition—the Taoiseach said that ministers would be permitted to oppose the position adopted by the government.
Although the Cabinet will come to a collective decision on holding a referendum on the Eighth Amendment, Mr Varadkar said Ministers will be free to “dissent” from that position. “What I would anticipate is Cabinet acting collectively, as it always does. So if we put a procedure or proposition to the Dáíl and Seanad, that will be a collective decision of the Cabinet,” he said. “That is not to say that people couldn’t dissent from that. I’m not sure if that makes any sense. But Cabinet can only operate collectively.”
A government spokesman later confirmed that the Taoiseach intended to allow Ministers who participated in an expected decision to hold a referendum, to vote against the proposal in the Dáil and to campaign against the referendum, if that is their wish.
Fine Gael TDs have been promised a free vote on conscience grounds on the issue, but this is the first indication that it will extend to Ministers.
Mr Varadkar also said the Government would publish the heads of abortion legislation – a short summary of the intention of the various section of the Bill – rather than a full draft Bill, as previously expected. This would be published in advance of the referendum to act as a guide to the sort of legislation the Government would bring to the Dáil if it is passed.
Asked if he thought the referendum would be passed, Mr Varadkar said: “That I don’t know, we must bear in mind that referendums are always difficult.”
Fianna Fáíl leader Micheál Martin also stopped short of endorsing the committee’s recommendations. He said he would examine the issue further and give a more “considered view” in the New Year. He did say, however, that he would be in favour of allowing abortion in cases of rape or incest and that there needs to be “movement” on the issue of so-called “fatal foetal abnormalities.”
Irish Examiner. December 15. The Irish Times. December 18.