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Does Labour really want to repeal the 8th Amendment?

Joan Burton latest comments have raised eyebrows about a key Labour commitment.

ON MONDAY, THE Tánaiste Joan Burton refused to be drawn on whether Labour’s push for the repeal of the 8th Amendment would be a “red line” issue for the party in any coalition negotiations.

As Labour gathered for its annual think-in in Wicklow, Burton told reporters: “We will have that in our election platform and hopefully we will be a key part of the next government.

We will be discussing that as part of any negotiations. But I personally never use terms like ‘red line’.

This prompted some to suggest the party could renege on one of its key policies in order to get into government.

In political parlance, red line issues are those which a party will not compromise on.

For example, Sinn Féin says it will not enter government unless it secures a commitment from its coalition government partner to abolish water charges and property tax.

Labour has long opposed and called for the repeal of the constitutional amendment which enshrines the equal right to life of the mother and the unborn. Burton was among those who actively campaign against passage of the referendum which gave effect to it in 1983.

At its conference in Killarney last year Labour members passed a motion calling for the party to include a commitment in its next manifesto to campaign for a referendum and a repeal of the 8th.

Source: oconnellhugh/Vine

What went largely unnoticed was that the Labour Women group had wanted a much stronger motion put to conference. It would’ve mandated Labour to ensure a provision to hold a referendum to repeal 8th Amendment was included in ANY programme for government it negotiates next time out.

This motion did not pass conference and therefore is not party policy. It conceivably gives Labour some wiggle room on the issue if its coalition partners are not inclined to hold a referendum.

The most likely partners are Fine Gael, a party which has historically been on the other side of this issue. Taoiseach Enda Kenny said last week he had no intention of introducing abortion on demand or committing his own party to a referendum on the 8th without examining closely what replaces it.

While we await Fine Gael’s exact manifesto commitment on this issue it has the potential to create an obvious sticking point in any coalition negotiations. Would Labour demand a referendum?

Burton would not talk red lines, but her one-time leadership rival Alex White said yesterday it would “absolutely” be a red line issue for the party.

So what exactly is Labour’s position on this? We asked a party spokesperson today who echoed much of what the Tánaiste said on Monday.

I think the definitive line on this came from the Tánaiste who said we don’t talk in terms of red line issues.

However they did add that neither same-sex marriage nor legislating for the X Case were red line issues in the last negotiations for coalition government with Fine Gael. Yet both have been achieved. The spokesperson continued:

But somehow we got them over the line. We won’t be approaching negotiations brandishing red lines.

They added that Labour has been “pretty good at getting stuff done” in government.

Labour has clearly stated it will be proposing repeal of the 8th in its manifesto. The party will make a strong play for it in coalition negotiations just as it did with same-sex marriage and the X Case.

But will the party’s card be as strong in such talks when it inevitably has fewer TDs? On current polls Labour is unlikely to be in a position to make as many demands of Fine Gael as it did in 2011.

But whatever happens, don’t expect Labour, officially at least, to describe repeal of the 8th as a ‘red line’ issue.

Read: Why Labour isn’t finished just yet

Read: More than a quarter of people say abortion will sway their vote

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About the author:

Hugh O'Connell

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