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Taoiseach says he is not opposed to holding a 'referendum day'

Varadkar says he has no intention of putting a referendum on the Eighth Amendment “on the long finger”.

Image: Shutterstock/roibu

LEO VARADKAR SAYS he is not opposed to holding a “referendum day” in a bid to allow the public have their say on all the referendums promised by government.

Issues which are to go to referendum include: the Eighth Amendment; reducing the time in which someone can get a divorce; blasphemy, extending the vote to citizens abroad; the establishment of a unified patent court; the role of women in the home, and changes to how the Ceann Comhairle is elected.

“I am not totally averse to holding a number on the one day. I can see the upsides and the downsides,” said Varadkar.

The possible presidential election due to be held next year, or the local and European elections in 2019 could be two options for such a referendum day, said the Taoiseach.

He said he would like to meet leaders of the other parties to see if a schedule can be agreed upon.

Eighth Amendment 

He did not know which issues should be given priority yet, but said he believed the referendum on the Eighth Amendment is the most pressing, as well as the voting rights for those abroad, stating that holding a referendum on the abortion issue in the first half of 2018 “is fine with me”.

The Health Minister Simon Harris has previously said he wants to see a referendum on the Eighth Amendment take place in the summer of 2018.

However, Varadkar said he could not make such a commitment in the Dáil today, for fear he may have to rescind it.

“If it is possible to have it done before the summer of next year, I wouldn’t have a problem with that, but I don’t want to make commitments and say that is possible and then have to come back into the house in March and April and say that it can’t be done because of x y or z,” he said.

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He said the first step is allowing the Joint Oireachtas Committee on the Eighth Amendment to get on with their work in assessing the reports and recommendations from the Citizens’ Assembly and preparing the wording for any future referendum.

The special committee is expected to hold public hearings in early autumn.

He denied that the process was delaying a referendum, adding that an electoral commission also has to be established.

We have faced complaints from electoral commissions before, telling Government that it was rushing a referendum and that it did not give the electoral commission enough time.  We have also had court cases on campaigns and the validity of referenda as a result of that.

The Taoiseach said he has asked Attorney General and the Department of Health to “pay attention” to what Citizens’ Assembly has recommended and the deliberations of the committee.

“So if and when at the end of November a report arrives on the minister’s desk and say what is all this about? So we are ready to have a referendum in 2018,” said Varadkar.

He added that legislation needs to be published before the people vote in a referendum.

Read: Minister for Health wants Eighth Amendment referendum next summer>

Read: ‘It’s the smart thing to do’: Canadian PM gives Varadkar advice on gender balance>

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