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"Let's not repeat the mistake of 1983"... Varadkar calls for calm in abortion debate

The Health Minister has rejected calls for a referendum to be held next year.

Bertie Ahern, then Chief Whip of Fianna Fáil outside Leinster House, as former school teacher Margaret dances in honour of the Holy Trinity and Virgin Mary.
Bertie Ahern, then Chief Whip of Fianna Fáil outside Leinster House, as former school teacher Margaret dances in honour of the Holy Trinity and Virgin Mary.
Image: Eamonn Farrell/Photocall Ireland

HEALTH MINISTER LEO Varadkar has rejected calls to revisit last year’s contentious abortion legislation, and he’s appealed for a “considered, non-ideological debate” on the issue.

Raising the recent ‘Miss Y’ case in the Dáíl today, opposition TDs also called for a fresh referendum on the 8th Amendment to the Constitution, suggesting it should be held next year.

The Minister, however, said we should learn from the events of the 1983, when the vote to introduce the contentious amendment (which bans abortion) took place.

“I think it would be a really bad idea in 2015, in the run into a general election, for us to have that kind of debate happening in that milieu.

Because we’ve been there before. That’s exactly what happened in 1983.

“People were put in the position where they made commitments in the run up to the general election that maybe they shouldn’t have.

“So let’s not repeat the mistake of 1983 and have all that again in 2015.”


Abortion was central to political events in Ireland between 1982, when Charlie Haughey’s Fianna Fáil government proposed the amendment, and September 1983, when the amendment was passed in a national vote.

A Fine Gael-Labour Government came into power almost a year before the referendum was held, and new Taoiseach Garret Fitzgerald promised to follow through with the plan to insert the clause into the Constitution.

A free vote would be allowed in the Dáil, it was agreed. However, there were disagreements about the wording of the insertion, leading to the FG-Labour coalition losing that vote. The initial FF amendment was eventually put the people in the September referendum, following months of protests, rallies and vigils.

TDs Clare Daly, Mick Wallace and Ruth Coppinger appealed to the Government to revisit the issue during ‘Topical Issues’ in the Dáil this afternoon.

Daly said the recent ‘Miss Y’ case had shown up the inherent defects in last year’s Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act, saying it “hadn’t even been able to do what it was designed to do”. Coppinger said the legislation had “failed at its first test”.

Clare Daly and Mick Wallace [Oireactas.ie]

Replying, Varadkar noted that a HSE inquiry into the case, which caused a media storm back in August, was under way.

He said there was no intention to amend the Act “in the lifetime of this Government, but the Act will be reviewed as required next June” and that there were…

[...] no proposals to hold a referendum to repeal the 8th Amendment.

Varadkar said that there had been misinformation from both sides of the debate in the days after the ‘Miss Y’ case came to light….

One of the things that disappointed me about this case was hearing on the radio so many voices in the initial days saying so many things that were totally factually incorrect

“I heard that from both sides of the abortion debate and from a number of State-funded bodies who really quite frankly should know better in their utterances.”

Calling for a more reasoned tone of debate on the issue, he said:

There’s a time and a place I think for a considered, non-ideological debate and conversation about this matter in this country, but it shouldn’t be done on foot of a tragedy and it shouldn’t be done on the run into a general election.

Varadkar said he was “very keen” to have the report on the current case as soon as possible, but that…

[...] anyone who is mentioned in it has the right to see it, and that will determine the date of publication.

Read: Minister believes there is no appetite for a referendum on abortion >

Opinion: Support for suicidal woman was complicated, not assisted, by abortion legislation >

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