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Harris to bring abortion legislation to Dáil before summer recess

Simon Harris is ‘extremely eager’ to pass abortion legislation by the autumn

Harris speaking to the media on Saturday.
Harris speaking to the media on Saturday.
Image: Leah Farrell/RollingNews.ie

Updated 7.40pm 

THE GOVERNMENT WILL is set to bring abortion legislation before the Dáil ahead of the summer recess.

A spokesperson for Minister for Health Simon Harris said this evening that he will go to Cabinet with a timetable of next steps tomorrow which will see the legislation published within six weeks.

Harris intends to bring forward this new legislation then before the summer recess and is said to be “confident we can complete all the necessary steps this year”.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said over the weekend that laws giving effect to Friday’s referendum could be enacted before the end of the year, but campaigners had called for a shorter timeline.

The Together for Yes campaign has called on the government to pass legislation allowing for the terminations of pregnancies before the summer break.

Health Minister Simon Harris was said to have been “extremely eager” to start drafting abortion legislation and met with senior officials in his department today.

His spokesperson added: “The Department of Health has already requested a meeting with relevant medical colleges tomorrow. Minister Harris is determined to move quickly but also to ensure we get this right and have a safe service for women.”

Ireland voted by 66.4% to 33.6% on Friday to remove the Eighth Amendment from the Constitution and replace it with the 36th Amendment, directing the Oireachtas to legislation for the termination of pregnancy.

On RTÉ Drivetime today, Minister for Employment Affairs Regina Doherty said that Harris will meet with opposition members on the issue, and that the subject will be dealt with in Cabinet tomorrow.

She said that issues needing to be tackled include drafting clinical guidelines, and licensing and regulating the abortion pill. Harris has an “ambition to announce a roadmap” for the process at the end of this week, said Doherty. “We want this to be done as soon as it can be done,” she said.

Doherty said that among the issues due to be discussed at tomorrow’s Cabinet meeting is the possible repeal of the 1995 Abortion Act. The Irish Family Planning Association called on the government today to immediately repeal this act, saying it would “lift one of the major barriers to care for women with unintended pregnancies or pregnancies that have become a crisis.”

Detailed draft legislation was published by the government ahead of the referendum.

The Department of Health is expected to deliver a memorandum for the government tomorrow about the upcoming legislation.

Speaking this morning, Education Minister Richard Bruton said there is still “considerable” work to be done in drafting the legislation.

“Tomorrow the minister will report back to us about what the issues are. I mean we’ve had a considerable debate about the merits and the outline proposals, but I think everyone that’s familiar with drafting them knows there is a considerable amount of work to be done in the parliamentary draftsman’s office to provide robust legislation to underpin those,” Bruton said.

The one thing we don’t want is legislation that’s not robust and is challenged in the future so there will have to be work done on that so we have proposals to bring to the Dáil. So I think we’ll have a better idea tomorrow as to when such drafted proposals can be presented to the Dáil.

20180528_113917 Education Minister Richard Bruton. Source: TheJournal.ie

Speaking this morning on RTÉ’s Today with Seán O’Rourke, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said he would support summer sittings of the Dáil if the legislation was prepared in time.

“I’m known in the Dáil as being an advocate for longer sittings and I certainly would support that, and we owe it to the people,” Martin said.

Asked about this, Bruton said that the government would have to “wait and see if it is achievable”.

“The drafting is a difficult process and I think anyone familiar with legislation will know that. Time will have to be given to that to make sure it’s robust,” he added.

Opposition

Harris is also expected to brief members of the opposition and the Oireachtas Committee this week on his plans for the legislation.

“The minister is also conscious that a number of other items need to be advanced including the development of clinical guidance by medical colleges and institutes and the regulation of certain medication for termination,” a spokesperson said last night.

“The minister hopes with the support of the Oireachtas to be able to pass legislation in this area in the autumn.”

The Irish Medical Organisation is among the groups that has said it expects to speak with the government about the development of the legislation.

In a statement, the doctors representative group said:

The IMO expects the Government to engage with the organisation on both legislative planning and practical implementation in order to ensure that proper systems and adequate resources are in place to deal with the issues arising for the Health Service in both general practice and the acute hospital setting.

Timeline

If Harris’ summer timeline is achieved, this could allow for the new laws to be brought in before the budget and there will be pressure on politicians to deliver on this timeline.

The confidence and supply agreement between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael expires after the next budget.

Martin also said that he has been contacted by TDs within his own party who were campaigning for a No vote but who have committed to ensuring legislation is passed.

“As far as I’m concerned the people have now spoken, many deputies have contacted me, many of them who’ve voted No, they’re very very clear that they will support the bill. They will certainly not do anything to oppose the legislation.”

With reporting from Seán Murray

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Rónán Duffy

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