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Varadkar says Coveney's call for two-thirds majority lock in abortion law is unconstitutional

The Cabinet is discussing potential abortion legislation today.

Updated 6.55pm

LEO VARADKAR HAS said that Simon Coveney’s call for the inclusion of a two-thirds majority lock on the law that would be enacted if the Eighth Amendment is repealed is unconstitutional.

This evening Cabinet approved the “general scheme” of the legislation on abortion that would be brought forward if the referendum is passed.

Last night, a spokesperson for the Tánaiste said he was “looking for a two-thirds majority to be necessary if there was ever any attempt to alter the law in the future”.

“To put that into context, that is more than the combined strength of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil in the current Dáil.

“The Tánaiste hopes this will go some way towards countering the reckless claims that our parliament can’t be trusted and to reassure voters that there will be no creeping change over time if they vote repeal.”

Coveney believes such a mechanism would make it impossible for any one political grouping to change the law in the future as is being claimed by those against repealing Article 40.3.3 of the Constitution.

It is understood that the Tánaiste did not brief the Taoiseach about his proposal before floating the idea last night.

The call was criticised by members of the opposition and, speaking in the Dáil today, Varadkar confirmed the suggestion is indeed contrary to the Constitution.

“In relation to the proposal to have a two-thirds majority to change any legislation, I sought advice from the Attorney General on that matter today and the Attorney General advised me that it would be contrary to Article 15 of the Constitution and therefore could not be included in this legislation and therefore will not be,” the Taoiseach said.

‘Simon is just wrong’ 

Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland earlier, Labour leader Brendan Howlin said the two-thirds majority lock would be unconstitutional.

“I think Simon is just wrong on this issue. Article 15.11 of the Constitution couldn’t be clearer that all questions in each House of the Oireachtas must be determined by a majority of votes by members present and voting,” Howlin said.

A majority is a majority, it doesn’t require a majority plus anything. The Constitution is crystal clear.

“In essence, what Simon is suggesting is that one-third of the members elected to Dáil Éireann could out-vote two-thirds, that it would be unconstitutional and that’s as clear as day,” Howlin said.

He noted that the only exception in the Constitution where a simple majority wouldn’t determine the matter would be in the case of the impeachment of the president.

Health Minister Simon Harris said that although Attorney General has advised that Coveney’s proposal is unconstitutional, he will examine ways in which future changes to abortion law will be considered.

Proposed legislation

Outlining the proposed legislation, Harris confirmed that terminations would only be lawful where an appropriate medical practitioner has certified that pregnancy has not exceeded 12 weeks.

The wait-time of 72 hours between the certification and the termination being carried out was also confirmed by the minister.

Beyond the first 12 weeks, terminations will only be available in exceptional circumstances, such as the risk of serious harm to the health or life of the woman, in emergency situations, or in cases of fatal foetal abnormality.

The minister plans to give a date of the referendum this week.

With reporting by Órla Ryan and Christina Finn 

Read: Here’s what the legislation could look like if the Eighth is repealed

More: TDs approve Eighth Amendment referendum Bill

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