Katherine Zappone backs February vote on abortion

Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone has backed calls for the abortion referendum to be held by February 2018 after saying the Oireachtas committee tasked with setting its scope does not need six months to decide.

She made the comments as the Oireachtas business committee prepares to receive a draft members list today for the 20-person committee on abortion, despite Fine Gael struggling to find TDs or senators willing to take part.

Asked in Dublin if she supports opposition TDs’ calls for the abortion referendum to be held as soon as possible, Ms Zappone said there was no reason for a delay.

She said the Citizens’ Assembly recommendations will be formally given to the Oireachtas by June, at which point the new committee will have six months to deliberate on its findings.

“I think the earliest [the referendum] can come, and I would love to see it, is February 2018. I said that a long time ago when I was probably one of the first to sit down and try to calculate the months of when the [Assembly] reports and when the committee would be set up,” said Ms Zappone.

“The committee doesn’t need to spend the amount of time it’s been given, they could bring it to us sooner than that. But if they feel they need that time I do think in light of that, the timeframe that’s being worked with, yes, we could bring a referendum to the people for February 2018.”

The comment came as a draft list of names for the new committee is due to be discussed by the Oireachtas business committee today.

It is expected Fianna Fáil will put forward TDs Billy Kelleher, Lisa Chambers, Anne Rabbitte, and James Browne; Sinn Féin will put forward Jonathan O’Brien and Louise O’Reilly; Labour Jan O’Sullivan; while Solidarity-People Before Profit will rotate between Bríd Smith and Ruth Coppinger. Independents4Change will be represented by Clare Daly while Social Democrats, Greens, and unaligned Independent Seamus Healy will give their position to Catherine Murphy — although Catherine Martin may attend some meetings.

Of the other 10 members of what is likely to be a 20-person committee, Independent senators Rónán Mullen and Alice Mary Higgins are set to be included, as is Fianna Fáil senator Ned O’Sullivan.

Fine Gael has yet to formalise its membership of the committee, with TDs Kate O’Connell and Bernard Durkan and senators Jerry Buttimer and Catherine Noone suggested but not yet formally included.

Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar yesterday said he understood why some TDs might be reluctant to serve on the body because of “abuse” they might receive. However, other sources said there are practical reasons, as many Fine Gael members are committed to other Oireachtas committees.

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