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Leo Varadkar still won't say how he'll campaign in an abortion referendum

The Taoiseach says, however, that his Cabinet wants a referendum to take place.

Varadkar has spoken about the report for the first time since its publication.
Varadkar has spoken about the report for the first time since its publication.
Image: Sam Boal/Rollingnews.ie

Updated 4.10 pm

TAOISEACH LEO VARADKAR has declined to offer his view on the report of the Oireachtas abortion committee, which was published three weeks ago today.

An Taoiseach said before the Christmas break that he wished to study the report and discuss it with the Fine Gael party and government ministers before making his views known.

The Cabinet met today for the first time since the publication of the report and Varadkar said it was discussed by ministers for two hours.

Varadkar said there was “strong consensus” that a referendum be held this year but he declined to say on which side he’ll be campaigning.

As well as recommending that the effective ban on abortion be removed from the Constitution, the committee recommended that a lawful termination be available without restriction up to 12 weeks of pregnancy.

Varadkar said today that he wished to hear the views of the Fine Gael parliamentary party.

“We had a decision around the Cabinet table, it lasted about two hours and everyone who was present made a contribution,” Varadkar told reporters outside Government Buildings.

We didn’t come to any final decisions today, we want there to be more consultation. So my party, the Fine Gael party, will discuss this at our special parliamentary party meeting next week. I know other parties are going to do the same. And also there will be a three-day debate in the Dáil and the Seanad on the report.

“And that will allow every TD and Senator who wants to express their view to do so before the government makes a decision on how to proceed,” the Taoiseach said.

(Click here if video doesn’t play)

“It is I know very much a private and personal matter and there is a diversity of views on this question in the Cabinet, in the Oireachtas, in every political party and I think in almost every family and household,” Varadkar added.

Asked about ministers potentially campaigning on opposing sides of a referendum,  Varadkar said they would be allowed “campaign freely, in accordance with their conscience, or not campaign at all”.

The Taoiseach said that he would make his views known on the referendum when the wording of the question is finalised.

“When I know what the question is and and we’ve decided on what the question is I’ll give my views on the issue. And I will advocate for people to vote on the lines of the views that I will express, but I’m not going to be ramming my views down anyone’s throats,” he said.

Asked about the committee’s proposal surrounding the 12 week limit, Varadkar said there is “a concern among many politicians” that it may have gone too far “for the majority of the public”.

“It (the proposal) went further than many people may have anticipated, it certainly went further than I would have anticipated a year or two ago,” he said.

But also after reading the report I can understand the logic behind that and why they came to that decision, particularly given the widespread availability now of the abortion pill.

Time pressure

Ministers are facing a tight schedule if a referendum is to be held on the issue before the end of the summer summer, as is the stated preference of the Taoiseach.

The report will likely to take centre stage when the Dáil returns next week.

While Varadkar has said that his Cabinet would take a collective decision on whether to hold a referendum, he has said that ministers would be able to “dissent” from that.

Some ministers have publicly stated their position while others have not.

Speaking today, Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan said the issue has been a “challenging and sensitive” one but that he supports the recommendations of the committee.

“I don’t believe that this is an issue that should be in our constitution,” he said.

Speaking alongside Flanagan, Enterprise Minister Heather Humphreys said she wished to speak wither her constituents further, adding that it is “a very complex and emotive issue”.

“I continue to consult with people in my constituency and I particularly want to consult further with the women because at the end of the day women will be most impacted by this decision,” she said.

Minister for Health Simon Harris has said that he wishes to propose the legislation for the referendum and told  told The Ireland Edition of The Times that he supported the recommendations of the committee.

Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe did not make his views clear prior to Christmas but said yesterday that he supported the recommendations of the committee.

Both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil have said that their TDs would have a free vote in the Dáil on legislation that is proposed following the committee’s report.

Fianna Fail party leader Micheál Martin told TheJournal.ie last month that he wished to have more time to reflect on the report before making his views clear.

Read: Archbishop Eamon Martin: ‘Abortion ends the human life of an unborn girl or boy’ >

Read: ‘Once the debate starts. Once the referendum campaign kicks off, it’s open season’ >

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Rónán Duffy

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