Irish Taoiseach calls for respect in abortion referendum

Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has urged politicians not to become embroiled in disrespectful or personalised attacks during the referendum on liberalising restrictive abortion laws.

He reiterated his commitment to hold the vote before the end of May in order to ensure as many people as possible can take part.

"It should be respectful of all sides and it should never be personalised," the Taoiseach said.

"Even when people are not being respectful or are personalised towards us we should not respond."

The exact date of a vote on the question of repealing the Eighth Amendment to the Irish Republic's Constitution is to be determined once politicians vote on legislation to hold a referendum.

If voters back removal of the clause, which gives equal right to life to the mother and the unborn, then a new amendment will be inserted to enable the Irish parliament to legislate to make terminations legal in certain circumstances.

The Taoiseach said the intention was to liberalise the regime to allow for unrestricted abortion up to 12 weeks into pregnancy.

He told the Dail parliament: "This is now a matter for the Irish people. It is in their hands.

"I think it is right that Irish people should be asked this question.

Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Katherine Zappone and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar brief the media on the government's plans for a referendum on Ireland's restrictive abortion laws, at Government Buildings in Dublin (Niall Carson/PA)
Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Katherine Zappone and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar brief the media on the government's plans for a referendum on Ireland's restrictive abortion laws, at Government Buildings in Dublin (Niall Carson/PA)

"When it was last asked I was four years old. Nobody under 52 has had a vote on this issue. I think it's appropriate that people should be allowed to have this vote."

Terminations are currently only allowed in the Irish Republic when the life of the mother is at risk, including from suicide, and the maximum penalty for accessing an illegal abortion is 14 years in prison.

Mr Varadkar defended the decision to publish a summary of the Attorney General's advice to the Government on the issue of the referendum.

Based on that voters will be asked whether they want to repeal the Eighth Amendment and replace it with a new form of words to allow parliament to legislate on abortion in the future.

Mr Varadkar said a similar step on the AG's advice was taken in 1983 when the referendum was held to insert the clause on the unborn into the Constitution.

He said: "We don't want to be in a situation whereby Irish people go out in a majority and vote to repeal the Eighth only to find out that it had no effect and that there is still a constitutional ban on abortion."

Ailbhe Smyth, of the Coalition to Repeal the Eighth Amendment, said: "In the 35 years since its insertion, the (Eighth) Amendment has proved to be legally confusing, medically unworkable and profoundly detrimental to women's lives, health, and well-being."

Dr Ruth Cullen, of the Pro Life Campaign, said: "They can't disguise the fact that what's being proposed is solely about stripping unborn babies of all meaningful legal protections."

Last December, a specially convened parliamentary committee found the Eighth Amendment was not fit for purpose and should be repealed.

It recommended abortion up to 12 weeks of pregnancy without a woman having to explain her decision.

Pls RT: Our statement reacting to Government plans for a referendum on the 8th Amendment. #loveboth#8committeehttps://t.co/1Zc7UHkoyQpic.twitter.com/9eK5AnwWMF

-- Pro Life Campaign (@prolifecampaign) January 29, 2018

Those recommendations followed votes by Ireland's Citizens' Assembly to liberalise laws on the issue.

Government ministers are free to take different positions on the contentious matter with Tanaiste and Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney one of those not willing to back unrestricted rights for the procedure within 12 weeks' gestation.

If the electorate votes to repeal any draft legislation would only become law if it is passed in the Dail.

That is not a foregone conclusion with a minority Government in power and politicians allowed a free vote.

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