Health Minister Leo Varadkar at odds with James Reilly over abortion vote

Health Minister Leo Varadkar has clashed with his predecessor, James Reilly, by saying he does not want Ireland’s strict constitutional abortion law to be removed entirely, as it would “let the Dáil and Seanad do whatever they like”.

The Fine Gael minister contradicted his cabinet colleague after a week which has seen the abortion debate reopen within the party.

Speaking on RTÉ radio after a week dominated by ex-health minister and now Children’s Minister Mr Reilly’s view that Ireland must hold a referendum on abortion and that the eighth amendment may need to be scrapped, Mr Varadkar said he is not in agreement with his colleague.

The Health Minister said he is “pro-life” and is in favour of keeping the constitution as it currently stands, suggesting that, if the rule was removed, the Dáil and Seanad could do anything they liked and “could even legislate for third-trimester terminations”.

Mr Varadkar accepted that the current law is too restrictive and that his party is in favour of establishing a commission to examine controversial cases involving rape, and where a child may not survive.

However, while stressing Fine Gael’s new position of allowing a free vote on the matter when it is raised after the next general election and that he hoped any future debate “might be a more grown-up one” compared to the past, Mr Varadkar said there should be concerns over what the implications of removing the eighth amendment may be.

Mr Varadkar’s comments appeared to jar with Mr Reilly, who was understood last night to still be of the view that he had raised the abortion issue last week with sincerity, and that he will do so again if required.

James Reilly

After Mr Reilly raised the need to reassess Ireland’s abortion laws last week, Taoiseach Enda Kenny said it is his intention, if his party is re-elected, to hold a citizens’ convention to debate the issue within six months,

However, despite reports that Mr Kenny had clashed with Mr Reilly over his public comments and had to be forced into announcing the citizens’ convention move, the Taoiseach has insisted in the course of recent days that he has no problem with his cabinet colleague.

Meanwhile, Labour junior minister Kathleen Lynch has said that the sudden drive by sections of Fine Gael to address Ireland’s abortion laws is “peculiar”, as it happened just days after the Labour women’s group announced its own plans.

Labour junior minister Kathleen Lynch

The Cork North Central TD said that “while I’m not saying we should take the credit” for the development, she has found the “timing” of note, as Labour is in favour of changing the eighth amendment.

Separately, opposition parties have urged the Government to clarify what they may replace the eighth amendment with if the constitutional rule is removed after the general election.

Fianna Fáil, which has previously committed to a free vote on abortion, said it wants a “broad debate” on what is needed, while Sinn Féin said it wants more urgent action as there is “no excuse for further delay”.

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