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Keaveney: 'A lot of TDs are curious about a referendum on the abortion law'

The former Labour chairman, Colm Keaveney, continues to indicate that TDs and Senators could force a referendum on the abortion legislation, using a little-known provision of the Constitution to petition the President.

Image: Julien Behal/PA Archive/Press Association Images

THE NEWLY-INDEPENDENT TD Colm Keaveney has claimed there are “a lot of people curious” about the possibility of invoking Article 27 of the Constitution and forcing a referendum on the Protection of Life during Pregnancy Bill.

The former Labour chairman – who resigned from the party this week – has been vocal on the possibility of using the little-known article to petition to President to hold a referendum on the abortion legislation when it becomes law later this summer.

A majority of 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 asking him to not sign it until a referendum is held.

Keaveney has expressed concerns about aspects of the legislation, particularly “the idea that a baby would be prematurely born in the hands of the State”, referring to the absence of term limits in the bill as it currently stands.

“There are a lot of people curious about this position,” he told TheJournal.ie, claiming that both pro-life and pro-choice parliamentarians have been meeting in an “informal capacity” to discuss the possibility of forcing an unprecedented referendum on a piece of legislation before it is signed into law.

He continued: “It is an issue that has been divisive in Irish society for as long as I can remember. Surely the best way to insulate whatever decision emerges from the legislation is the backing of the people because ultimately it closes the issue down.”

Colm Keaveney. Pic: Julien Behal/PA Wire/Press Association Images

Clipboard

Keaveney insisted he is not plotting to gather names to support the idea, saying it was a responsibility of the clerks of the Dáil and Seanad to gather signatures.

“Either 55 people sign it or they don’t. What should never happen is that there be a perception that there are 54 signatures there and everybody’s looking around for the 55th,” he said.

“That is not going to happen and nobody is going to play politics with politicians on that.”

“It will be a matter for any individual who wants to do it, and feels comfortable doing it. There is no whip on this… it’s a constitutional provision. There’s no element of trying to coerce people to try and sign something.”

Keaveney added that the days after the abortion bill passes both houses of the Oireachtas will be crucial and said this will be when legislators decide if they want to petition the President.

“”People are looking, as legislators, at the legislation. There is a facility there. If people want to take it up, that’s fine and there’s lots of clusters of discussions going on.”

“It’s not for me to say: ‘Here’s the clip board, there’s 38 names there, and we’re waiting to secure [more].’ We want them to do it if they want to do it,” he added.

Explainer: How does Article 27 work?

Read: Junior Minister dismisses notion of abortion referendum

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About the author:

Hugh O'Connell

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