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We asked every TD if they want to repeal the Eighth Amendment - here's what they said

A lot of them don’t want to talk about it.

THE EIGHTH AMENDMENT is arguably the most talked about section of Bunreacht na hÉireann.

Article 40.3.3 of the Irish Constitution came into effect after a referendum on 7 September 1983, where it was voted in by a 67% majority.

The amendment acknowledges the right to life of the unborn, equating it with the mother’s right to life. Here is the exact wording:

The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right.

1983 ABORTION ISSUES REFERENDUMS Fine Gael's Seán Barrett and Fianna Fáil's Bertie Ahern leave the Dáil during the 1983 referendum. Source: RollingNews.ie

There has been much debate about the amendment in recent years, particularly in relation to the death of Savita Halappanavar in 2012, who was denied a termination, and the case of a braindead woman who was kept on life support in December 2014, against the wishes of her family, because she was pregnant.

The spotlight was again cast on the amendment last month when the United Nations called for a referendum to be held on repealing it.

Pro-choice campaigners say repealing the eighth is long overdue and would bring Ireland in line with most other developed countries, while pro-life groups believe it provides necessary protection for the unborn.

The topic is controversial and emotive. Many politicians have voiced strong opinions on the subject, while others prefer to not discuss it.

Over the past three weeks, TheJournal.ie asked every TD the following two questions:

  1. Are you personally in favour of repealing the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution?
  2. Do you want a referendum on the Eighth Amendment to be held in the lifetime of this government?

Each TD was contacted a number of times – via email and telephone. Just under half (48%) of TDs replied – 76 out of 158.

8th new

The majority of respondents want the amendment to be repealed: 47 (62% of the replies). While 22 others (30%) said they don’t want it repealed. Three said they don’t know and four replied without giving a definitive answer.

In terms of holding a referendum on the topic during this government’s term, 49 agreed, 22 disagreed, two were unsure and nine TDs’ answers placed them in the Other category.

8th new 2

A full list of what TDs said, and who did and didn’t reply, can be read here. Although some TDs may have voiced opinions on the subject in the past, this survey is not based on previous comments.

Here’s who said Yes to question 1 (in alphabetical order by party):

The Anti-Austerity Alliance-People Before Profit (AAA-PBP) (6 of 6)

  • Mick Barry
  • Gino Kenny
  • Bríd Smith
  • Paul Murphy
  • Ruth Coppinger
  • Richard Boyd Barrett

28/10/2014. Abortion Issues Pill Trains Ruth Coppinger with abortion pills she brought to Dublin from Belfast. Source: Sam Boal/RollingNews.ie

Women should have a right to make a choice on the matter. Women have waited too long already. There has been far too much delay and the government intend to put it on a long finger again. We need action now as the Eighth Amendment is a danger to women’s lives and health, and women should have the right to choose now and not is the distant future. – Ruth Coppinger

Fianna Fáil (1 of 44)

  • Pat Casey*

Fine Gael (6 of 50)

  • Kate O’Connell
  • Josepha Madigan
  • Minister Leo Varadkar
  • Maria Bailey
  • Fergus O’Dowd*
  • Junior Minister Eoghan Murphy

*with caveats outlined below

I consider it the right of Irish women to access any medical services they require in their own country. Right now, the “lucky ones” who can afford to travel, at huge expense, are travelling at a rate of over nine per day to the UK. Those who cannot afford to travel are either suffering through pregnancies against their will or are resorting to taking abortion pills purchased online, alone, without medical supervision and at huge risk to their personal health. – Kate O’Connell

The Green Party (2 of 2)

  • Eamon Ryan
  • Catherine Martin
The original amendment was flawed and has not served Irish women who are still travelling in large numbers to have an abortion in other jurisdictions. – Eamon Ryan

Independents, the Independent Alliance and Independents 4 Change (7)

  • Thomas Pringle
  • Tommy Broughan
  • Maureen O’Sullivan
  • Minister Katherine Zappone
  • Catherine Connolly
  • Junior Minister Finian McGrath
  • Joan Collins

23/10/2014. Peoples Movement Press Conferences Thomas Pringle Source: Sam Boal

We need to start trusting women to make decisions about their own lives and bodies in this country. It is only trying to kick it to touch by waiting on a constitutional convention. Repeal the eighth now and legislate, that is what needs to be done. – Thomas Pringle

Labour (5 of 7)

  • Seán Sherlock
  • Joan Burton
  • Jan O’Sullivan
  • Alan Kelly
  • Brendan Howlin

Sinn Féin (16 of 23)

  • Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin
  • Pat Buckley
  • Jonathan O’Brien
  • Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire
  • Mary Lou McDonald
  • Louise O’Reilly
  • Eoin Ó Broin
  • Dessie Ellis
  • Seán Crowe
  • Martin Ferris
  • Maurice Quinlivan
  • Gerry Adams
  • David Cullinane
  • John Brady
  • Denise Mitchell
  • Martin Kenny

11/5/2016. Sinn Fein Team Gerry Adams Source: Leah Farrell

All this prevailing situation has achieved is to jeopardise the lives of Irish women and to leave medical practitioners in a very difficult position. I believe the referendum should be held as soon as possible. - Gerry Adams

Social Democrats (3 of 3)

  • Catherine Murphy
  • Stephen Donnelly
  • Róisín Shortall
It is a fundamental human rights issue that must be addressed urgently. A referendum to ascertain the public’s view on this is long overdue given that the previous result is over 30 years old. – Catherine Murphy

Workers and Unemployed Action Group (WUAG) (1 of 1)

  • Séamus Healy

Here’s who said No:

Fianna Fáil (16 of 44)

  • Brendan Smith
  • Kevin O’Keeffe
  • Jim O’Callaghan
  • Anne Rabbitte
  • Éamon Ó Cuív
  • Willie O’Dea
  • Barry Cowen
  • Pat ‘The Cope’ Gallagher
  • Bobby Aylward
  • James Lawless
  • Declan Breathnach
  • Thomas Byrne
  • Shane Cassells
  • Marc MacSharry
  • Eamon Scanlon
  • Jackie Cahill

7/4/2016. General Election Government Formations Éamon Ó Cuív Source: Sam Boal

I am not in favour of repealing the provision in the constitution that protects the right to life of both mothers and the unborn as I believe this protection is a fundamental protection for all human beings. – Éamon Ó Cuív

Fine Gael (2 of 50)

  • Peter Burke
  • Junior Minister Andrew Doyle

Independents and Independent Alliance (4)

  • Michael Collins
  • Danny Healy-Rae
  • Mattie McGrath
  • Seán Canney

22/3/2012 Final Mahon Tribunal Reports at Dail Mattie McGrath Source: Mark Stedman/RollingNews.ie

I am opposed to repealing the Eighth Amendment for many reasons … such an action would be wholly disproportionate and would remove the last vestiges of constitutional protection for the life of the unborn child. A major concern here is that in all the talk of removing the Eighth Amendment, there has been a complete absence of any proposed mechanism to even acknowledge the life of the unborn child – a human person – at the constitutional level. – Mattie McGrath

Don’t Know or Other

A spokesperson for the Taoiseach said Enda Kenny is “determined a conversation will take place that is mutually respectful and sensitive”, and that the citizens’ assembly on the topic, as set out in the programme for government, will allow for this.

11/5/2016. Taoiseach Responds To O Higgins Reports Taoiseach Enda Kenny Source: Eamonn Farrell

Tánaiste and Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald is also in the Other category. Here is the answer she gave us:

I fully support the government’s plan to establish a citizens’ assembly, within six months with a mandate to look at a limited number of key issues including the Eighth Amendment. We will ask the citizens’ assembly to make recommendations to the Dáil on further constitutional changes, including on the Eighth Amendment. This is a delicate and complex issue and I believe a citizens’ assembly is the best way to move things forward.

Alan Farrell, also a member of Fine Gael, is in the Don’t Know category. He told us: “It very much depends on what is proposed to replace the amendment.”

Pat Casey, who was elected in Wicklow in the general election, is a lone voice in Fianna Fáil. He told us he’s in favour of repealing the eighth amendment, but has some conditions attached to this position.

“I’ve no problem with it being repealed but it needs to replaced something else that protects [the] unborn,” he said, adding that there “needs to be a discussion” about it before putting it to the people in a referendum.

Fianna Fáil’s John Lahart is in the Don’t Know category. He also wants to see what comes out of the convention, telling us: ”I think we need a sense of what would be proposed to be put in place of the existing constitutional provision.”

‘It can’t be answered with Yes or No’

Meanwhile, Fine Gael’s Fergus O’Dowd also gave his support for repealing the eighth – with some caveats. He said he wants women to have access to terminations in cases involving fatal foetal abnormalities, rape and incest. He said there needs to be a strict time limit on this.

31/5/2016. Cabinet Meetings Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald Source: Sam Boal

O’Dowd said the constitutional convention is a good idea, as it will allow for a “proper debate” before holding a referendum.

His Fine Gael colleague Bernard Durkan is in the Other category. He told us: “The question can’t be answered with a direct Yes or No”, adding that we need to carefully consider how best to move forward.

Tony McLoughlin, also a Fine Gael TD, is in the Don’t Know category. He said he has “fears about the possibility of abortion being made available on demand if the Eighth Amendment is removed and the current legislation is changed”.

However, he added he is aware of “many issues which need to be addressed and which will require the constitution to be changed”.

Here is what each party told us about the subject:

Fine Gael has promised that a citizens’ assembly will be held on the issue – in the same vein as the 100-person convention previously held to look at issues such as same-sex marriage (which was passed in the referendum last year), reducing the age at which a person can run for the office of the president (which was defeated in another referendum on the same day) and reducing the voting age (which never made it to a national vote).

A citizens’ assembly is due be held within six months of the government being formed to look at a limited number of issues (not just constitutional ones), including the Eighth Amendment.

A Fine Gael spokesperson told us the assembly “will be without participation by politicians and will make recommendations to the Dáil on possible constitutional changes”.

18/5/2016. New Front Bench Micheál Martin Source: Leah Farrell

Fianna Fáil‘s election manifesto doesn’t mention the topic. A spokesperson for party leader Micheál Martin said:

The question of whether or not to repeal the Eighth Amendment is not one with a simple yes or no answer.  Those who advocate its repeal have not presented any proposal on what it would be replaced with.
That is why Fianna Fáil wrote to the health minister 12 months ago proposing the establishment of a expert commission to examine the health, legal, moral and ethical implications presented by the issue. Based on this analysis, the Oireachtas would then decide on the way forward, when Fianna Fáil TDs would vote on the basis of their individual consciences.

All bar one of the party’s TDs who replied don’t want the amendment to be repealed.

This is Sinn Féin‘s stance:

We will legislate for a referendum to repeal the Eighth Amendment in order to provide for a woman to seek a termination of a pregnancy where her life is at risk or in grave danger, and in cases of rape or incest as well as in cases of fatal foetal abnormalities.

Labour has also called for a referendum on repealing the eighth to be held. However, the party didn’t back opposition bills on the topic when it was in government.

File Photo Joan Bruton to Resign. Reports suggest the Joan Burton is going to resign today. Joan Burton Source: RollingNews.ie

In its manifesto, the party states:

If the referendum is successful, pass comprehensive legislation for terminations in the event of fatal foetal abnormalities, real and substantial risk to the health of the woman, and where rape, incest or serious sexual assault has created a risk to the physical or mental health of the woman.

A number of bills calling for the eighth amendment to be repealed were voted down during the lifetime of the last government, including ones put forward by Socialist Party/Anti-Austerity Alliance TDs Ruth Coppinger and Joe Higgins and Clare Daly (then a United Left TD, now an Independents 4 Change member).

The following TDs refused to respond:

Fianna Fáil

  • Niamh Smyth
  • Timmy Dooley
  • Michael Moynihan
  • Michael McGrath
  • Margaret Murphy-O’Mahony
  • Seán Haughey
  • John Curran
  • Jack Chambers
  • John Brassil
  • Seán O’Fearghaíl
  • Fiona O’Loughlin
  • Robert Troy
  • Charlie McConalogue
  • John McGuinness
  • Billy Kelleher
  • Darragh O’Brien
  • Frank O’Rourke
  • Seán Fleming
  • Niall Collins
  • Dara Calleary
  • Lisa Chambers
  • Eugene Murphy
  • Mary Butler
  • James Browne
  • Aindrias Moynihan

Fine Gael

  • Minister Heather Humphreys
  • Junior Minister David Stanton
  • Junior Minister Dara Murphy
  • Minister Michael Creed
  • Jim Daly
  • Junior Minister Joe McHugh
  • Minister Richard Bruton
  • Noel Rock
  • Junior Minister Catherine Byrne
  • Colm Brophy
  • Seán Barrett
  • Minister Mary Mitchell O’Connor
  • Ciarán Cannon
  • Junior Minister Sean Kyne
  • Hildegarde Naughton
  • Brendan Griffin
  • Martin Heydon
  • Minister Charlie Flanagan
  • Minister Michael Noonan
  • Tom Neville
  • Junior Minister Patrick O’Donovan
  • Peter Fitzpatrick
  • Junior Minister and chief whip Regina Doherty
  • Junior Minister Helen McEntee
  • Junior Minister Damien English
  • Junior Minister Marcella O’Corcoran-Kennedy
  • Michael D’Arcy
  • Junior Minister Paul Kehoe
  • Minister Simon Harris
  • Pat Deering
  • John Paul Phelan
  • Junior Minister Pat Breen
  • Joe Carey
  • Minister Simon Coveney
  • Minister Paschal Donohoe
  • Junior Minister Michael Ring
  • John Deasy

Independents, the Independent Alliance and Independents 4 Change

  • Minister Denis Naughten
  • Michael Harty
  • Noel Grealish
  • Michael Healy-Rae
  • Michael Lowry
  • Minister Shane Ross
  • Michael Fitzmaurice
  • Kevin ‘Boxer’ Moran
  • Junior Minister John Halligan
  • Clare Daly
  • Mick Wallace

Labour

  • Willie Penrose
  • Brendan Ryan

Sinn Féin

  • Kathleen Funchion
  • Pearse Doherty
  • Aengus Ó Snodaigh
  • Brian Stanley
  • Imelda Munster
  • Peadar Tóibín
  • Carol Nolan

- With reporting by Róisín Nestor

Explainer: What is the Eighth Amendment?

Read: Ireland has been told by the UN Human Rights Council to change its abortion laws

Related: Previous survey on the Eighth Amendment

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Órla Ryan

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