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A pro-life protest in Dublin in 2013. PA Archive/Press Association Images
Changing times

Alan Shatter wants a referendum on abortion ... and divorce

The former justice minister thinks it’s time we change the Constitution – in a number of ways.

ALAN SHATTER HAS said that a referendum needs to be held on the issue of allowing terminations in cases of fatal foetal abnormalities, rape and incest.

The former justice minister made the comments at a Dublin Rathdown constituency meeting this evening, just four hours after voting against Clare Daly’s Bill on the issue.

Earlier, Daly labelled the Taoiseach “a hypocrite” over his stance on the legislation. Enda Kenny said the bill, which was rejected by 104 votes to 20, was unconstitutional.

Speaking tonight, Shatter recalled opposing the inclusion of the so-called “pro-life” amendment in the Constitution in 1983, saying:

“At that time, I predicted some of the possible consequences of its inclusion in our Constitution and, unfortunately, over the years, some of the predictions made by me have been proved right.”

Shatter reiterated comments he made during the debate on the Protection Of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013, saying it is “an enormous cruelty that a woman in this State is compelled to bring to full term a pregnancy where a fatal foetal abnormality has been identified and there is no prospect of a child surviving”.

He also said it is “entirely unacceptable that a woman who is a victim of rape or incest should be compelled to retain a pregnancy resulting from such circumstances”.

5/10/2013 Seanad Referendums Campaigns Shatter (File photo) Sam Boal / Photocall Ireland Sam Boal / Photocall Ireland / Photocall Ireland

Shatter said most of the public agree constitutional change is needed in this regard, adding that he hopes Fine Gael will include a commitment to holding a referendum on the issue in its General Election Manifesto.


Shatter also wants the subject of divorce to be put to the people once again. The 1996 vote allowed for the inclusion in the Constitution of a provision that requires couples to live apart for a minimum of four years before a marriage can be legally dissolved.

DIVORCE REFERENDUMS IN IRELAND 1995 PRO DIVORCE RALLY RELIGIOUS ISSUES A pro-divorce rally in 1995. Eamonn Farrell / Photocall Ireland Eamonn Farrell / Photocall Ireland / Photocall Ireland

He said this time frame “locks estranged spouses into a legal limbo”, “results in thousands being required to involve themselves in two separate sets of court proceedings, one initially for separation and another later for divorce”, and “costs the taxpayer annually millions of euros” through legal aid.

DIVORCE POSTERS An anti-divorce billboard in 1995.

Shatter went on to describe constitutions as “documents of their time” that need to be updated as “society evolves”.

Same-sex marriage

Shatter said that a ‘Yes’ vote in the upcoming Marriage Equality Referendum should not be taken for granted “despite what is represented currently in opinion polls as being overwhelming support for change”.

In 1986, there was similar overwhelming support for constitutional change to permit divorce at this distance from the date of the referendum but, by the time the votes were cast and counted, the support had evaporated.

He said that legal uncertainty surrounding same-sex partners and their children will remain an issue regardless of the outcome of the referendum in May.

“Unfortunately, these issues are not widely understood by the general public and, at the time when Cabinet decided to hold a Marriage Equality Referendum, I emphasised the importance of our enacting the Children and Family Relationships Bill addressing these important parental issues in advance of the Referendum being held.”

NOISE Protests Labour TD John Lyons and Senator Katherine Zappone at a pro-marriage equality demonstration outside the Dáil in 2012. Laura Hutton / Photocall Ireland Laura Hutton / Photocall Ireland / Photocall Ireland

Shatter said he is concerned that if this new legislative framework is “not enacted and in place well in advance of the referendum to be held, it will facilitate those opposed to constitutional change generating controversy and muddying the waters and misleading people into voting ‘No’”.

The Fine Gael TD said he is “greatly concerned” that the Children and Family Relationships Bill has not yet been published for second stage debate in the Dáil as he published the draft legislation a year ago.

He added he was “further concerned” that the provisions contained in the Bill relating to surrogacy have been removed and that a separate Bill dealing with both assisted reproduction and surrogacy is to be published by the Department of Health.

Earlier: A shameful abandonment’: Just one Labour TD defies party as Clare Daly’s abortion bill voted down

Read: Clare Daly: Fine Gael and Labour will vote down abortion bill like ‘nodding donkeys’

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