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Explainer: What exactly are Ireland's politicians voting on tonight?

The Dáil debate on the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill 2013 has just kicked off.

Pro-Life and Pro-Choice protesters gathered outside Leinster House today.
Pro-Life and Pro-Choice protesters gathered outside Leinster House today.
Image: Daragh Brophy/TheJournal.ie

THE TAOISEACH TOLD the Dáil this morning that the vote on the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill 2013 will be held at midnight today.

But first, deputies will hold debate and mini-votes on 165 tabled amendments throughout the day. Proceedings are due to get going at 11.50am for just an hour and 40 minutes but will resume during two further sessions – the first between 4.40pm until 7.30pm.

The last debate on the proposed legislation will take place from 9pm to midnight, when a final vote will be called regardless if every amendment has been discussed and voted on.

This so-called guillotining of the legislation was criticised by Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin during a discussion in the Chamber this morning. In response, Enda Kenny said he didn’t object to extending the time but added that he was “going to get rid of it this evening”.

So, what exactly are they voting on?

The Bill is currently at Report Stage (after completing Second and Committee Stages in recent weeks). During this period, all sitting deputies can suggest amendments and each is discussed and voted on in the Dáil.

A total of 165 amendments have been tabled by TDs, with a number coming from the Minister for Health himself. During the day, each individual amendment is voted on. Some are grouped together for discussion if they are deemed similar enough.

Once the debates are complete, deputies will vote on the entire piece of legislation. There is normally a ‘Final Stage’ vote but this has been included in tonight’s ‘Report and Remaining Stages’ vote.

As Dáil rules generally favour the government, the Ceann Comhairle will stand at midnight and declare that because the time limit, it is proposed that all the report stage amendments proposed by the Minister are accepted, that all other amendments are defeated; that the bill is passed at report stage, and that the bill is passed at final stage.

The question will then be: “All in favour, say Tá [Yes]“.

If there are 10 or more deputies intent on voting against the government, a complete vote will be held.

If approved, that’s the end of TDs debating the matter. The Bill will then move to the Seanad where Senators will have their chance to table amendments and discuss the proposed laws.

Once the Seanad signs off on it, the Bill is sent to the President. Michael D Higgins would usually have between five and seven days to sign it into law but this period can be circumvented if the Government deems it necessary, and the Seanad approves it. This procedure has been used often in the past, notably during the debate on the IBRC legislation when the Bill was signed into law barely an hour after the Seanad passed it.

However, President Higgins could also convene the Council of State if he has fears that the legislation could be unconstitutional.

How are people voting?

All eyes are on Minister of State Lucinda Creighton who has signalled her strong opposition to the Bill. She has suggested a number of significant changes but they are likely to be rejected at this stage. If she is not satisfied and votes against the government, she will lose her position as European Affairs Minister, as well as the Fine Gael party whip.

Four other TDs from Fine Gael who have been sitting on the fence – James Bannon, John-Paul Phelan, Michelle Mulherin, and John O’Mahoney – are now more likely to vote for the Bill, following assurances from the Minister that it is as restrictive as it can be.

At least 13 Fianna Fáil deputies will vote against the Bill again – as they did last week during second stage. Others set to oppose the legislation in votes today are Sinn Féin’s Peadar Tóibín and six independent deputies Michael Healy-Rae, Noel Grealish, Mattie McGrath, Michael Lowry, Colm Keaveney, and Denis Naughten.

It is understood that a number of Independents and members of smaller political parties – who are in favour of legalising abortion services in Ireland- could vote against the legislation. Speaking to TheJournal.ie before entering the Chamber, Deputy Richard Boyd-Barrett said he will decide once he sees how today progresses.

The Dublin deputy has tabled 40 amendments, including one to allow for terminations in the case of fatal foetal abnormalities. He said it was “outrageous” that women in such situations have to travel for treatment.

“It depends on the Minister’s amendments. Anything could happen,” he said. “The Minister’s amendments represent a severe restriction, a further restriction on a woman’s rights.”

What does the Bill include?

The Bill allows for lawful terminations where there is a risk to life of the mother. The Taoiseach has took pains to assure the public and fellow politicians that it does not create any new rights.

It outlines that a termination can be carried out by a registered medical practitioner at an appropriate location if there is a “real and substantial risk” of the mother losing her life. Two doctors are required for sign-off on the procedure unless it is an emergency case and the risk is immediate.

The controversial suicide clause allows for a termination where there is a risk to life from self-destruction. In such a scenario, the law will require sign-off from three doctors – one obstetrician/gynaecologist and two psychiatrists. It also details a review procedure if the woman is not satisfied with the initial outcome. The appeals panel will consist of three more doctors.

Explainer: A crash course on how the abortion proposals will become law

Earlier: Rosary chants and ‘Savita’ banners greet TDs ahead of contentious vote

D-day for Creighton as Dáil to vote on abortion legislation

Fine Gael TD: Pro-life protestors were banging on my home window

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