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Frances Fitzgerald: Abortion referendum should be held next year

The Citizens’ Assembly has made recommended sweeping changes be implemented regarding Ireland’s abortion laws.

Image: PA Wire/PA Images

Updated at 6.25pm

TÁNAISTE FRANCES FITZGERALD has said that a referendum on the Eighth Amendment on the Constitution should be held next year.

RTÉ News reports that Fitzgerald – who is also Justice Minister – said that the Constitution was not the place to deal with the issue of abortion.

“It’s best dealt with between a woman and her doctors,” the Tánaiste said.

“But of course you also have to have an appropriate legislative basis. My own thinking is that there should be a referendum next year.”

Fitzgerald was speaking following yesterday’s vote by the Citizens’ Assembly against maintaining the status quo regarding Ireland’s abortion laws.

On Saturday, the Assembly voted overwhelmingly to recommend changing Ireland’s strict abortion laws, while yesterday it balloted as to how Ireland’s laws would look following the changeover.

The Assembly recommended the replacement, not the repeal, of the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution. It also recommended a provision that the Oireachtas must legislate for abortion, and that terminations should be allowed without restriction up to the 12th week of pregnancy, amongst other things.

citizens assembly Justice Mary Laffoy, chair of the Citizens' Assembly, pictured on Saturday Source: Sam Boal

Speaking earlier, Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Paschal Donohoe said that the issue of the Eighth Amendment should be dealt with by the current Oireachtas.

The chair of the Assembly is to present a report on its recommendations by June. A special Oireachtas committee will then examine the Assembly’s recommendations.

Speaking to reporters today, Donohoe said it was important to allow the Oireachtas committee to complete the process of considering the Citizens’ Assembly report before any decisions are made on the Eighth Amendment.

“The Oireachtas committee will consider that now across the coming weeks and months and I believe it’s very important that this deliberative process be allowed to continue,” he said.

And in the aftermath of that work being done it will be up to Government to respond back.

Donohoe said that it was his understanding that the committee would be set up “in the near future” and that it would then have a number of months to consider the Assembly’s recommendations.

For that reason, he said he could not give a “legislative timeline” as to when the issue will be dealt with. But the minister said that the matter should be dealt with by the current Oireachtas.

“This matter should be dealt with by this Oireachtas,” he told reporters.

“Repeal and enact”

Voices from across the political spectrum and on both sides of the abortion issue have been commenting following the Citizens’ Assembly issuing its recommendations.

Sinn Féin’s spokesperson on health Louise O’Reilly said that it was important for the Oireachtas and the committee to “act with urgency and put this issue to a referendum”.

“The recommendations show there is a clear appetite for reform and change of the current situation regarding access to terminations,” said O’Reilly.

Sinn Féin’s position is clear. We want repeal and enact; repeal the Eighth and enact legislation on the grounds of rape, incest, and fatal foetal abnormality.

The Irish Family Planning Association (IFPA) said it “welcomed” the Assembly’s recommendations “for comprehensive abortion law reform”, and called such reform “a political imperative”.

“The Citizens’ Assembly has provided the Oireachtas Committee with an extremely strong imperative for change,” said chief executive Niall Behan. “There can be absolutely no doubt that the members of the Assembly want healthcare policy that respects women’s reproductive health rights, their dignity, autonomy and equality.”

The Oireachtas Committee must take a women-centred approach and focus on legislation and policy that will ensure access to abortion services.

Parents For Choice meanwhile said it wished to ‘extend its gratitude’ to the members of the Assembly.

“The Assembly has called for an amendment to the constitution to ensure the Oireachtas legislates for abortion access. The Assembly then clarified what level of access to abortion people in Ireland should have: full access up to 12 weeks, and access up to 22 weeks on the grounds of a risk to health and for socio-economic reasons,” said spokesperson Sinéad Redmond.

This call for change cannot be ignored. The government must  act on these recommendations without delay. We are also heartened to see the Assembly call for access to abortion at any stage of gestation where  there is a risk to our life, a serious risk to our health, or where the pregnancy is not viable.

“Total lack of balance”

On the other side of the divide, Cora Sherlock of the Pro Life Campaign said that the “writing was on the wall” for the Citizens’ Assembly vote given the “total lack of balance throughout”.

ABORTION ISSUE 90509562_90509626 Source: Rollingnews.ie

“There is nothing liberal or progressive about the Assembly recommending a referendum to strip unborn babies of their right to life in law and also ignoring the negative consequences of abortion for women,” she said.

The writing was on the wall for weeks after the Assembly invited Britain’s largest abortion provider to address them but never, for example, extended a single invitation to groups representing parents who say they owe the life of their child to the Eighth Amendment.

“This one-sided approach is typical of how the Assembly conducted its business from the get-go. It cannot be left unchallenged,” Sherlock said, adding that “if the next phase of the process is to have any credibility, the first thing the new Oireachtas Committee… must do is examine how the Citizens’ Assembly was allowed to operate in such a one-sided and chaotic way”.

The Renua political party released a statement in line with its pro-life policies and said it “wishes to express its disappointment with the conclusions reached by the Citizens’ Assembly over the past number of days, and to reaffirm our commitment to protect the human rights of the unborn”.

“Renua believes that the recommendations of the Assembly, particularly that the constitution be amended to explicitly pass power on abortion over to the Oireachtas, diminishes the human rights of the unborn and will, far from ending the debate surrounding abortion, simply instigate an endless political fight over the issue,” it said.

Solidarity-PBP TD Ruth Coppinger meanwhile said that the Assembly’s votes “can’t be ignored”.

“The Citizens’ Assembly votes are an unequivocal message to the Dáil that abortion must be legislated for on a very wide range of grounds,” she said.

“The Assembly reflects the massive change in attitudes that has taken place on abortion in recent years – evident to anyone campaigning on the issue, but not to the establishment parties who’ve voted down minimal change numerous times.

These recommendations  can’t be ignored by the Dáil which established the Assembly as its favoured process.

With reporting from Cormac Fitzgerald

Read: After huge vote to push for change to Ireland’s abortion laws, the Assembly is deciding what they should look like

Read: Bishop says new maternity hospital should obey rules of Catholic Church

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