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‘Struggling’ TDs in discussions on abortion Bill referendum

Colm Keaveney tells TheJournal.ie that preliminary groundwork is being put in place to activate Article 27 of the Constitution.

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LABOUR TD COLM Keaveney has confirmed to TheJournal.ie that he has been involved in “an informal process” with a group of cross-party TDs about the proposed legislation which will allow abortion in Ireland in specific circumstances.

“It is fair to say that discussions are taking place for deputies whose consciences are struggling under the grip of the whip system,” he said this afternoon, following reports that a number of politicians are planning to activate a constitutional provision to force a referendum on the Bill.

“We’ve been working within an informal process with both pro-life and pro-choice TDs who have major ethical and other issues with the bill,” continued Keaveney, who lost the party whip when he voted against the government last December on the cut to the Respite Care Grant.

“It is based around a group of like-minded TDs who have concerns about the legislation, as is.”

The front page of today’s Sunday Independent reports on a number of Fine Gael, Labour, Sinn Féin and Independent TDs ‘plotting’ to use Article 27 of the Constitution to ensure the public is asked to vote on whether it approves of the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill 2013 before it is signed into law.

Keaveney, who declined to say how many TDs and Senators are involved in the process, said it is his “firm belief that the only appropriate course of action is to ascertain the people’s view”.

“Currently, it is about information sharing and putting the preliminary groundwork in place. A lot of deputies were surprised this was available to them,” he said. “It is not a Constitutional referendum. It is a yes/no on the Bill itself.”

A number of one-to-one briefing sessions have been planned for the coming days, as well as procedural meeting with the clerks of the Dáil and the Seanad about activating Article 27.

Challenging the government, he added: “I don’t understand why anybody would be afraid to engage democratically with its citizens.”

Speaking on RTÉ’s The Week in Politics earlier today, Junior Minister Brian Hayes dismissed the idea of a referendum on the Bill. He cited the two referenda that have already been held on the abortion issue in the past two decades.

“People have already rejected previous governments’ contentions that the X Case ruling shouldn’t apply,” he said.

How does Article 27 work?

As Keaveney pointed out, Article 27 would not provide a Constitutional referendum. In fact, it can only be applied to a Bill that does not contain a proposal for the amendment of the Constitution.

For the provision to be successful, a majority of sitting Senators (30) and at least one-third of the members of Dáil Eireann (55) are required to sign a petition, addressed to the President within days of the Bill being passed through the Dáil.

The petition will ask Michael D Higgins not to sign the Bill into law until a referendum has been held. The referendum would not be about abortion services directly, but would ask if people wanted the Bill to be enacted or not.

The process has never been used and the government has plans to scrap it altogether.

Article 27 in full:

This Article applies to any Bill, other than a Bill expressed to be a Bill containing a proposal for the amendment of this Constitution, which shall have been deemed, by virtue of Article 23 hereof, to have been passed by both Houses of the Oireachtas.

1. A majority of the members of Seanad Éireann and not less than one-third of the members of Dáil Éireann may by a joint petition addressed to the President by them under this Article request the President to decline to sign and promulgate as a law any Bill to which this article applies on the ground that the Bill contains a proposal of such national importance that the will of the people thereon ought to be ascertained.

2. Every such petition shall be in writing and shall be signed by the petitioners whose signatures shall be verified in the manner prescribed by law.

3. Every such petition shall contain a statement of the particular ground or grounds on which the request is based, and shall be presented to the President not later than four days after the date on which the Bill shall have been deemed to have been passed by both Houses of the Oireachtas.

4. Upon receipt of a petition addressed to him under this Article, the President shall forthwith consider such petition and shall, after consultation with the Council of State, pronounce his decision thereon not later than ten days after the date on which the Bill to which such petition relates shall have been deemed to have been passed by both Houses of the Oireachtas.

If the Bill or any provision thereof is or has been referred to the Supreme Court under Article 26 of this Constitution, it shall not be obligatory on the President to consider the petition unless or until the Supreme Court has pronounced a decision on such reference to the effect that the said Bill or the said provision thereof is not repugnant to this Constitution or to any provision thereof, and, if a decision to that effect is pronounced by the Supreme Court, it shall not be obligatory on the President to pronounce his decision on the petition before the expiration of six days after the day on which the decision of the Supreme Court to the effect aforesaid is pronounced.

5. In every case in which the President decides that a Bill the subject of a petition under this Article contains a proposal of such national importance that the will of the people thereon ought to be ascertained, he shall inform the Taoiseach and the Chairman of each House of the Oireachtas accordingly in writing under his hand and Seal and shall decline to sign and promulgate such Bill as a law unless and until the proposal shall have been approved either

i) by the people at a Referendum in accordance with the provisions of section 2 of Article 47 of this Constitution within a period of eighteen months from the date of the President’s decision, or

ii) by a resolution of Dáil Éireann passed within the said period after a dissolution and re-assembly of Dáil Éireann.

Whenever a proposal contained in a Bill the subject of a petition under this Article shall have been approved either by the people or by a resolution of Dáil Éireann in accordance with the foregoing provisions of this section, such Bill shall as soon as may be after such approval be presented to the President for his signature and promulgation by him as a law and the President shall thereupon sign the Bill and duly promulgate it as a law.

6. In every case in which the President decides that a Bill the subject of a petition under this Article does not contain a proposal of such national importance that the will of the people thereon ought to be ascertained, he shall inform the Taoiseach and the Chairman of each House of the Oireachtas accordingly in writing under his hand and Seal, and such Bill shall be signed by the President not later than eleven days after the date on which the Bill shall have been deemed to have been passed by both Houses of the Oireachtas and shall be duly promulgated by him as a law.

Read: Junior Minister dismisses notion of abortion referendum

More: Fine Gael TD says he won’t support abortion bill, and neither will nine others

Related: Amendment to abortion bill on fatal foetal abnormalities handed to Govt

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