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Repeal the Eighth campaigners call for referendum within 12 months

Coalition to Repeal the Eighth Amendment said it has a number of concerns about the Citizens’ Assembly due to hold its first meeting next month.

Demonstrators at the 5th Annual March for Choice which marched through Dublin city on Saturday.
Demonstrators at the 5th Annual March for Choice which marched through Dublin city on Saturday.

REPEAL THE EIGHTH campaigners have called for a referendum to be held within nine to 12 months.

During a press conference this morning, the Coalition to Repeal the Eighth Amendment - a grouping made up of over 65 pro-choice organisations – highlighted its concerns about how the forthcoming Citizens’ Assembly will conduct its work.

Following last weekend’s turnout at the March for Choice in Dublin’s city centre, Ailbhe Smyth, convener of the organisation, said it is clear there is “a deficit” between Irish politicians and popular opinion.

However, while pro-choice campaigners refer to a tipping point in the conversation around Ireland’s abortion laws, an equally emboldened pro-life lobby argues the opposite is the case.

Niamh Uí Bhriain of The Life Institute instead says that their canvassers on the ground are finding that people aren’t engaged with the issue.

“I think amongst ordinary people there’s abortion debate fatigue,” she says.

In stark contrast, the coalition maintain there is no time for a delay on a referendum.

It is calling on the Citizens’ Assembly to focus on removing the Eighth Amendment completely from the Constitution, rather than replacing it with an alternative clause.

Referendum

When asked when the coalition would envisage a referendum to be held, Smyth said:

Putting a precise timeline on it is relatively a difficult thing to do. What I would certainly say is that I would hope… that we will have referendum over the next nine to 12 months. To delay it any further is quite simply unacceptable – it is also dangerous, frankly.

This opinion was also held by the Director of the National Women’s Council of Ireland, Orla O’Connor.

We would be fairly confident, there will be a referendum. It is a matter of when. It will, we believe, be within months.

Source: Christina Finn/YouTube

Deirdre Duffy, deputy director of the Irish Council for Civil Liberties said any further delay in holding a referendum will open Ireland up for further international critique from bodies and commissions.

The group backs up its calls for a referendum on the latest polls, it states.

The Amnesty Red C poll in February 2016 found that 87% of respondents are in favour of expanding access to abortion in Ireland, as did RTÉ’s General Election poll, finding 75% in favour.

“There is absolutely no reason why a referendum should be deferred any longer,” said Duffy.

“Unless we call a referendum on this issue we are going to get stuck in a time warp around our human rights obligations…  if we don’t move on this, the cases are going to keep coming.”

Smyth said now was a time for Irish politicians to show leadership and tackle the issue.

We can only say to our leaders – lead. Take this issue in hand, show your courage and call a referendum.

While the coalition is counting on politicians to stand up and be counted, the Life Institute is working to block such a ballot.

It’s their view there is no appetite for a vote or a win, should it come to that.

“It could bring us to a point where the government might realise that there isn’t this big demand for a referendum but it will also lay the groundwork for a referendum if that comes,” says Uí Bhriain.

Citizens’ Assembly

The coalition said that while it is calling for a referendum, it accepts that the Citizens’ Assembly is proceeding next month.

The first meeting of the Citizens’ Assembly will be held on Saturday 15 October at Dublin Castle. Subsequent days will be held at the Grand Hotel in Malahide.

It’s been confirmed that Red C Polling will be tasked with selecting 99 members of the public – plus 99 substitutes – who are willing to act as members of the Assembly.

IMG_6379 (1) Coalition to Repeal the Eighth Amendment at a press conference in Dublin today. Source: Christina Finn

Speakers today said they had serious concerns about the Assembly – however it’s been welcomed that the proceedings are to be transparent and broadcast online.

First of all, we believe it is imperative that the Assembly consults widely with medical, legal and human rights experts, both nationally and internationally. And, above all, there must be a recognition that the ultimate experts in this debate are women themselves. The abortion debate has, for too long, been ruled by emotions; it now needs to be informed by expertise, experience and facts.

Campaigners are also critical that there is no timeline for the Assembly to deliver its recommendations. It is calling for the Assembly to conclude its work and report back to the Oireachtas by February 2017.

Following that, a referendum should be called within three months, according to the group.

Lobbying and intimidation 

Concerns have already been raised about the makeup of the Assembly and whether those people will be subject to lobbying and intimidation.

This is an issue that has been raised by AAA-PBP politicians Ruth Coppinger and Brid Smith.

Smyth said it is “unfortunate” that no politicians are sitting on the Assembly, despite a third of the Constitutional Convention – which dealt with issues such as marriage equality – being made up by politicians.

Questions were raised about citizens on the Assembly being open to influence.

She said citizens who are going to be sitting on the Assembly are real people who read the newspapers, watch TV and are on social media.

We would certainly hope that there would be no intimidatory lobbying – it certainly won’t be coming from the Coalition to Repeal the Eighth amendment, our member groups or organisation.

“We would absolutely hope this discussion takes place in a manner that is entirely respectful towards the people who have been called upon to do a job on behalf of the state,” said Smyth.

“Guidelines and procedures need to be set out by the chair of the Assembly regarding lobbying and possible intimidation,” said Duffy.

Source: Christina Finn/YouTube

Colm O’Gorman, executive director of Amnesty International said that one of the main challenges for the Assembly is that there are only 99 people on it.

Such a number cannot be a statistical representative sample of society, he said.

Those that are party to the Assembly could potentially have a very skewed perspective of this issue that isn’t reflective of where society is at on either side of the argument  - that is one of the challenges or flaws in the process.

“I have confidence in citizens to have a conversation like this,” said O’Gorman.

Read: Here’s how Irish emigrants in 23 cities are showing their support for Repeal The 8th today>

Poll: Were TDs right to wear ‘Repeal’ jumpers in the Dáil chamber?>

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