Latest: Abortion referendum bill could be debated as early as Thursday evening

Update 4pm: The Government intends to publish the legislation for the planned abortion referendum on Thursday paving the way for the voters to decide whether to liberalise the country's abortion laws.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said Cabinet will meet on Thursday morning to discuss the wording of the referendum bill.

If ministers give it approval it could be debated in the Dail as early as that evening.

Mr Varadkar said he had agreed to a request from the Attorney General for a day to consider the written judgment by the Supreme Court.

His advice will be considered at the Cabinet meeting.

"It's important that we get this right," Mr Varadkar said.

"It's important that we dot the Is and cross the Ts.

"We don't want to make any unforced errors when it comes to a referendum on changing our constitution."

The Taoiseach said the introduction of the bill into the Dail would allow the Government to formally establish a referendum commission and its work would begin almost immediately.

"That is certainly what I wish to do," Mr Varadkar said.

The Referendum Commission is an independent statutory body that must be set up in advance of any referendum in Ireland.

Update 3.20pm: The Government remains hopeful a referendum on abortion can be held in May.

The Supreme Court ruled this morning that the unborn have no rights in the constitution outside the 8th amendment, paving the way for a referendum.

The cabinet will meet tomorrow to approve a referendum bill which they hope can go before the Dáil tomorrow or Friday.

Health Minister Simon Harris does not believe a slight delay in their timeline will mean putting off the date of the referendum.

He said: "I do hope we can all work together in a cooperative manner to ensure the people of Ireland have a say.

"Yes politicians, their voice is important, it's representative of the people, but no voice is more important than the voice of every single Irish citizen.

"I certainly hope nobody in this Oireachtas would endeavour to prevent the Irish people from having their say, but I don't think that'll happen.

"I expect we will be able to deliver a referendum this May."

Update 1.08pm: Taoiseach aims to introduce Abortion Bill tomorrow following Supreme Court ruling

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar says efforts will be made to introduce legislation to the Dáil tomorrow on the abortion referendum following a Supreme Court ruling on the rights of the unborn, writes Juno McEnroe.

The court has ruled that the unborn do not have rights in the Constitution beyond the Eighth Amendment, which the government is preparing to put to a vote in late May.

Mr Varadkar said Attorney General Seamus Woulfe had asked and was being given a day to review the Supreme Court judgement.

Sinn Féin's Mary Lou McDonald, in the aftermath of the ruling, called on the Cabinet to immediately meet and approve the referendum wording so the Dáil can debate this and the vote process begin.

But Mr Varadkar said the Attorney General needed the time.

The Cabinet will meet tomorrow to consider the final wording, which is expected to ask voters whether or not the amendment should be repealed and whether the Oireachtas should be empowered to then legislate for terminations, in line with a Government decision.

Mr Varadkar said that, if possible, the legislation could be introduced in the Dáil tomorrow evening - if it is ready.

Proposed follow-on health legislation allowing for unrestricted abortion up to 12 weeks of pregnancy will also be published when the wording is introduced in the Dáil.

The Government wants the abortion referendum introduced this week, so that a timeline for a planned vote in the last week of May is not "jeopardised", as the Taoiseach told the Dáil.

Earlier: Ministers welcome 'clarity' provided by Supreme Court ruling on rights of the unborn

A landmark Supreme Court ruling on the rights of the unborn will allow the Government to press ahead with a planned abortion referendum, Health Minister Simon Harris said today.

Reacting to a Supreme Court ruling which will now allow Government press ahead with a referendum on abortion, Health Minister Simon Harris said: "If you believe that it is wrong that women who is brutally raped and has to carry her pregnancy to full-term in this country, you have to repeal the Eighth Amendment.

"If you believe it is wrong that a women who has a fatal fetal abnormality in her pregnancy finds herself having to travel to Britain to bring back her baby's remains in the boot of her car you have to repeal the Eighth Amendment.

"If you believe it is wrong that women from every county in this country on a daily basis, or a weekly basis, travel abroad for a termination you have to repeal the Eighth Amendment.

"And if you believe it is wrong that women, our sisters our daughters, our mothers, our wives, our neighbours, our work colleagues access abortion pills without medical supervision in the privacy and loneliness of their bedroom or their home, if you believe that's wrong, you have to repeal the Eighth Amendment," said Mr Harris.

Welcoming the fact that the Supreme Court ruling has brought "clarity to very important issue", Mr Harris said a special cabinet meeting tomorrow morning to agree on the final wording of the referendum.

Mr Harris now hopes to bring the Referendum Bill before the Dáil as early as tomorrow evening and will move to set up the Referendum Commission this week.

"I think it was right and proper that the Government waited until the Supreme Court had made its ruling.

"What the Government will now do is move ahead with preparing for a referendum that will take place before the end of May."

He added: "As a country, we are entering a very important number of weeks where people are going to have an opportunity to have their say in a democratic way in the ballot box on deeply complex, personal and sensitive issue.

"I have no doubt that during those weeks there will be much discussion about legal technical and medical issues and I think all that is important.

"But I think it is also very important that that doesn't drown out a very fundamental fact that if you believe there needs to be change in this area in this country you need to repeal the Eighth Amendment.

Children and Youth Affairs Minister Katherine Zappone said the court's ruling had provided clarity.

She tweeted: "I welcome the clarity offered by today's Supreme Court decision and look forward to continuing the process of putting the 8th amendment before the Irish people by way of referendum."

Minister for Justice and Equality, Charlie Flanagan TD said: “I welcome the clarity that this Supreme Court judgement provides regarding the status of the unborn within the constitution.

"In relation to the implications for the status of potential deportees from the state with regard to their family status; this is a detailed and comprehensive judgement, and my Department, along with others will analyse it fully.”

The judgement was criticised by RENUA Ireland, however.

“Today’s rushed Supreme Court Judgment does not change the fundamentals this government must now face when it comes to its fatally flawed proposal and attempt to repeal the 8 th Amendment," the party said in a statement.

"We have a process which must fill thinking voters with concern and unease."

The statement added: "Taoiseach Mr Varadkar is engaging in a fundamental act of disrespect to the people by bringing a proposal which has inspired such levels of opposition in his own party, let alone the country.

"The Fianna Fáil leadership is at direct odds with its own grassroots, membership and Ard Fhéis votes."

The Pro Life Campaign said this morning’s Supreme Court ruling shows the importance of keeping the 8th Amendment in the Constitution.

Commenting immediately after the Court ruling, Pro Life Campaign legal adviser, Professor William Binchy said: “The Supreme Court’s judgment makes it all the more necessary to oppose the Government’s proposal to introduce abortion on demand.

"The Court has made it clear that unborn babies, up to birth, would have no constitutional protection against the legislation that the Government intends to introduce.”

Meanwhile, Fine Gael Senator Catherine Noone said she welcomed the clear and unanimous Supreme Court decision regarding the rights of the unborn.

Ms Noone chaired the all-party parliamentary committee on the Eighth Amendment, which recommended the Eighth Amendment of the Irish Constitution be repealed.

Currently, terminations are only allowed 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.

Campaigners are seeking to liberalise the regime to allow for unrestricted abortion up to 12 weeks into pregnancy.

If the referendum goes ahead, voters will be asked whether they want to remove the section of the Constitution which gives equal right to life to the mother and the unborn, and replace it with wording to allow parliament to regulate for the termination of pregnancy.

Senator Noone said: "Today the Supreme Court made a landmark decision.

"This judgment will allow us to move forward to a May referendum on the 8th Amendment".

She added: "It is my belief that the only rights afforded to the unborn under the current constitutional status, is the right to life provided for in the Eighth Amendment and this does not extend to other areas of the constitution.

"I urge us all to accept the Court's judgment in good faith and move forward in a civilised and respectful manner, as has been the case for the most part so far".

Labour Party TD Jan O'Sullivan said she welcomed the clarity provided by the ruling.

Ms O'Sullivan said: "The decision paves the way for the Oireachtas to debate with clarity the wording of the proposed Government referendum, which is coming before the Dail this week.

"I look forward to engaging in the debate with my Oireachtas colleagues, and would again call on the Government to ensure it keeps to its timetable of a May referendum on the Eighth Amendment so that the maximum number of people will be available to vote on the issue, many for the first time."

The government in January formally agreed to hold a referendum on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution.

The move came after the Oireachtas Committee on the Eighth Amendment published its report recommending repeal of Article 40.3.3, which recognises the equal right to life of the mother and the unborn.

The report stated that Constitutional provision prohibiting the termination of pregnancy in Ireland was unfit for purpose and in need of reform.

Green Party leader Eamon Ryan said he welcomed the unanimous ruling. "[It] offers real clarity, and paves the way for a referendum on the 8th Amendment in May," he said.

"We look forward to seeing the Government's legislation later this week, and to the debate in the Dail on Friday."

- PA & Elaine Loughlin


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