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Marathon Cabinet meeting on abortion comes to an end after four hours

Several cabinet members have yet to publicly state their stances on the referendum.

Updated 9.30pm

A SPECIAL CABINET meeting on the abortion referendum ended shortly before 9.30pm tonight.

The Taoiseach, Tánaiste and ministers had been discussing the wording of the referendum and the legislation that will need to be drafted should the Irish public vote to repeal the Eighth Amendment from the Constitution.

The meeting convened at 5.30pm and was scheduled to finish two hours later, but ended up going on much later than expected.

A press conference is now scheduled.

It is understood the Cabinet members took a brief break (with reports from Sky News that pizzas were ordered to Government Buildings) before going back in for round two.

Speaking to reporters earlier this afternoon, Health Minister Simon Harris said:

“I will ask government to agree to the approach to take with the wording of the referendum and obviously the government will hear from the Attorney General in relation to that.

I will also ask permission to go ahead the draft legislation we would put in place should the people of Ireland vote yes and I will be asking government to come to an agreed approach to that legislation.

cabinet 487_90533678 Health Minister Simon Harris Source: Sam Boal

Referendum date

The government previously made a commitment to hold a referendum in early summer, with the health minister stating that it would be preferable for the abortion referendum to be held in the month of May.

The Wicklow TD said both he and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar had outlined their desire for the referendum to be held in May as otherwise it will enter into the college exam period, the Leaving Cert timetable and also a period where people will be travelling on holidays.

Harris indicated that the Cabinet would not be setting out a date for the referendum this evening.

“A date for the referendum can only formally be set by my colleague the Minister for Housing and Local Government once the Oireachtas has passed the Referendum Bill,” he said, pointing out that he hopes the Bill will be ready by the end of March.

The health minister said he hoped today would provide more certainty surrounding the timeframe, but said “it is unlikely we will agree a specific date”.

Harris said today was a “very key and significant day – a day I hope where we move a step closer to give the people of this country their say on a very complex and sensitive issue, but an issue that is not going to go away, an issue that clearly needs to be addressed and an issue the people of Ireland clearly deserve to have their say on”.

Any legislation that is drawn up will undergo the normal scrutiny that any new law faces by the Oireachtas, said the minister.

Giving his own view, he said he would like to see the legislation echoing the “excellent work of the committee”.

Late last year the all-party Oireachtas committee recommended that the Eighth Amendment should be repealed.

The amendment grants the equal right to life of the mother and the unborn child – effectively restricting abortion to very limited circumstances.

The committee proposed that terminations without restriction should be allowed for up to 12 weeks.

The Taoiseach’s view

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, who revealed over the weekend that he will campaign to liberalise abortion laws, is expected to set out his stance in detail after this evening’s meeting.

Harris said the Taoiseach has made it very clear that he will outline his views once the Cabinet has met. “Leo Varadkar has never been shy about articulating his views,” he said.

Nine cabinet members have indicated they are in favour of following the recommendation of the committee however the position of several ministers, including Tánaiste Simon Coveney, remains unclear.

While Coveney tweeted earlier that he would outline his views after tonight’s meeting, it’s understood this is no longer the case.

In the latest Irish Times/MRBI opinion poll the majority of voters say they will back the repeal of the Eighth Amendment and support the introduction of abortion on request up to 12 weeks into a pregnancy.

The poll shows that the repeal side has an almost two to one lead over those who wish to keep the Eighth.

We will bring news of the press conference tonight. Stay with us @thejournal_ie and @TJ_Politics.

READ: Over half of voters are in favour of repealing the Eighth Amendment and abortion up to 12 weeks>

READ: Charity’s warning ahead of referendum: ‘Stop exploiting children and adults with Down syndrome’>

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