The Citizens Assembly will begin its deliberations on whether to liberalise the country's abortion laws on October 15, Taoiseach Enda Kenny has revealed.
Daniel McConnell of the Irish Examiner writes that at a briefing this morning for political correspondents, Mr Kenny set out his key priorities between now and Christmas.
But he confirmed the Assembly will hold its first meeting under the chairmanship of Justice Mary Laffoy and the abortion issue will be the first item on the agenda.
He signalled a report from the Commission will then be put to discussion within the Oireachtas before any decision on a referendum to repeal the controversial 8th Amendent, which gives equal status to the right to life of the mother and her unborn child.
Pro-choice advocates have been deeply critical of the delay in addressing the country's abortion laws, which sees thousands of women travel every year to the UK to have abortions.
Mr Kenny was asked about the recent hospitalisation of Finance Minister Michael Noonan.
He said he had been given assurances by Mr Noonan as to his ongoing health issues.
Mr Kenny said Mr Noonan rang him and told him of his cellulitus and assured him of his fitness to continue in office. He added that Mr Noonan said that if at any stage he was told by his doctors that he wasn't able to continue he would tell him, and Mr Kenny said he accepted that.
The Taoiseach said that Childrens Minister Katherine Zappone was told to go back and further develop plans to advance suppports for childcare. He said it was a “work in progress” and was speaking in the context of Fine Gael TDs seeking more supports for the “squeezed middle”.
Mr Kenny also said that the October 11 Budget will be “Brexit-proofed” and he said it was his impression that British Prime Minister Theresa May will trigger the exit process sometime in January or February 2017.
“It is strictly a matter for the Prime Minister but it is my impression from discussions is that it will happen sometime toward the end of January or early February,” he said.
He said the Government is focusing now on its preparations for the Budget 2017, which will be held on Tuesday, October 11.
He said the Budget will contain about €1bn in extra spending including provision for 650 extra teachers and 800 more gardaí, but these are largely to deal with the increasing population.
He said he expected the supply and confidence agreement with Fianna Fáil to be honoured.
The Taoiseach said Fianna Fáil have agreed to facilitate the minority Government, and said that discussions will take place between the Government and Fianna Fáil.
However, he said it will be a Government Budget.
Mr Kenny was critical of Fianna Fáil's u-turn on water charges, saying it was “a reversal to old school populism”.
“We in Fine Gael are totally united on the issue of water charges. Fianna Fáil have no idea how they could pay for it,” he said.
The Taoiseach said he expected the Commission on water to report by November.
Tomorow, Housing Minister is to launch a plan to end the use of hotels as a means of emergency accomodation.
Simon Harris will announce details on mental health in homelessness and Katherine Zappone will discuss the impact of homelessness on children.
In relation to Nama, Mr Kenny said the sale of assets by Nama should not be suspended.
He said the Government fully accepted the report from the Comptroller and Auditor General but that he had confidence in Nama.
“There is a difference of opinion here, the Government decided to set up a commission of investigation. But it has to work,” he said.