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Enda promises action on abortion within six months of re-election

However, the Taoiseach would not be drawn on any possible date for a referendum on the matter.

A protest calling for repeal of the Eighth Amendment in Dublin
A protest calling for repeal of the Eighth Amendment in Dublin
Image: Sam Boal

ENDA KENNY HAS said Fine Gael will set up a citizens’ assembly within six months of re-election to discuss the possibility of repealing the Eighth Amendment.

The Taoiseach described the issue as one which has divided Irish society “for a very many years” and said it requires “rational, sensitive and respectful discussions”.

“Within six months, I would set-up what I might term a citizen’s assembly, [and] give it a remit to look at the question of the Eighth Amendment,” he told reporters earlier this month.

He would not be drawn on any possible date for a referendum.

The assembly would be modelled on what Kenny said was the “outstanding” Constitutional Convention which considered several societal issues in the lifetime of this government, including the same-sex marriage referendum which passed in May of this year.

The repeal of the controversial Eighth Amendment, which gives equal right to the life of the mother and the unborn in the Constitution, is likely to be one of the key issues at the next general election.

Labour has already committed to holding a referendum if it is re-elected to government and published legislative proposals to allow for abortion in cases of risk to life, risk to health, rape and fatal foetal abnormality.

Kenny said that once the assembly considered the matter its report would go to an Oireachtas Committee.

“I want a sensitive and rational discussion about this. We would set up properly a constructed citizens’ assembly and let it reflect all of these features and move it through to the political system afterwards,” he said.

screenshot.1450445813.17064 Source: www.thejournal.ie

However, Kenny has ruled out introducing legislation to provide for assisted suicide.

Independent TD John Halligan has published a Bill that would allow a person to end their own life when they have an incurable illness and wish to do so.

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“We have had legal advice on that before, it is not constitutionally possible,” Kenny said.

It would probably require a referendum, but it is not one I am considering now. Though these are distressing cases that come to light as well.

Kenny defended his decision to allow Fine Gael TDs a free vote on the Eighth Amendment issue if it comes before the Dáil.

He said the situation is different to when he applied a three line whip on deputies during the debate on the  Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill two years ago, with several deputies, including Lucinda Creighton, subsequently expelled.

“This was not new legislation, it was clarifying what the law actually meant,” Kenny said of the law that provides for abortions in cases of risk to life, including suicide.

“In this case, with the Eighth Amendment, it was placed into the Constitution by the people, and it can only be removed by the people and in that sense it is a fresh issue for the government to look at.

“I feel completely happy that in the event of a consensus being arrived at and a requirement for an Oireachtas vote to take place, people would be perfectly entitled and allowed to vote in accordance with their conscience.”

Read: ‘Abortion is a divisive issue, but we can’t pretend it’s going to go away’ – Varadkar

Read: “She drove from Waterford to Dublin to fly to London on her own to have an abortion”

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Hugh O'Connell

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