Disrespectful or personalised attacks have no place during referendum debate: Taoiseach

Update 3.45pm: 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: "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.

"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."

Mr Varadkar also 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."

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.

- Press Association

Earlier: Labour Party call for straight repeal vote on 8th Amendment

The Labour Party have called for a straight repeal vote on the 8th Amendment rather than, as has been proposed by government, its replacement with alternative wording in the constitution.

Party spokesperson, Jan O'Sullivan, said the party were perplexed as to "why they have decided to propose alternative wording in the constitution rather than ... a simple repeal."

She went on: "We are concerned about that because it is diffcult already to deal with issues in the constitution. We don't believe that their should be wording in the constitution.

"So we appeal to the government to publish their legal advice."

The Taoiseach has indicated he would release a summary of the Attorney General's advice.

-Digital Desk

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