The repeal of the #8th Referendum: What comes next?

Minister for Health Simon Harris is greeted by retired Supreme Court judge Catherine McGuinness on arrival at the count centre in Dublin's RDS. Pic: Brian Lawless/PA Wire.

We take a look at what is to come over the next few weeks and months when - as now looks almost certain - it is confirmed Ireland has voted to repeal the Eighth Amendment of the constitution.

The first step will see President Michael D Higgins sign the repeal of the Eighth Amendment into law. After that, there will still be a long way to go before the passing of the anticipated legislation to legalise abortion.

The Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act will continue to be law until the passage of the new bill.

Speaking at the RDS count centre in Dublin city centre, a relieved Health Minister Simon Harris said he intended to, as early as next week, make a request to Cabinet to begin the process of implementing the government's plan to allow terminations up to 12 weeks of pregnancy.

Once the bill is introduced, it will be put before the Dáil for a general debate where members can make a number of amendments and additions if they so wish.

It will be then be sent to various committees who will go through the bill section by section, after which more amendments can be made.

The final stage of this will be a debate in the Dáil once again on the contents of the proposed legislation, following which members will vote whether or not to pass the bill.

Once passed in the Dáil, the bill will then be sent to Seanad to go through a similar process of debate, committees and amendments again.

Once in the hands of the Seanad, they have 90 days to consider, and enact one of the following outcomes:

  • Pass the Bill without any amendment or
  • Reject the Bill completely or
  • Return the Bill to the Dáil with amendments
  • If the Seanad returns the bill to the Dáil with amendments and it is not accepted it will lapse after 180 days.

    Within those 180 days, the Dáil may pass a resolution deeming the bill passed by both houses.

    This provision means that the Seanad cannot stop the introduction of legislation by the Dáil, rather just delay it.

    Once the bill has passed both houses of the Oireachtas, the Taoiseach will present a copy to the President for signing, at which point it becomes an Act and legally enforceable.

    Government plans are to introduce legislation before the summer recess (around the end of the second week in July) with the target of getting it passed by the end of the year.

    Tánaiste Simon Coveney has said that by the time the Dáil breaks for the summer, the clear heads of the legislation should be ready.

    Simon Coveney TD talks to a member of the Love Both campaign at Cork City Hall. Pic: Jim Coughlan

    With the cooperation of opposition parties, he said the Government could "hopefully" have the legislation passed by the end of the year.

    "It takes time to move through the different phases to make sure we get it right. It's important we do that...We are talking about lives here and supporting women and recognising the magnitude of the decision to terminate a pregnancy in Ireland. These are really serious issues"

    Fianna Fáil leader Micheal Martin says he would like to see the legislation passed as soon as possible.

    He said: "I would like the bill published and drafted as quickly as possible, certainly before the summer recess, and get into a second stage debate on this...if we can, and to have the legislation passed as quickly as possible after that.

    "There is momentum coming out of this referendum, we should build on that and honour what the people have said and that's very fundamental to a parliamentary democracy."

    UCC Lecture in constitutional law, Connor O'Mahoney said he believes it will be next year before the legislation is in place.

    He said: "Legislation has to go through all the various stages in both houses.

    "There will be a detailed debate about all aspects of the legislation.

    "There will be opportunities for deputies and senators to table amendments to the legislation if they are unhappy with particular aspects of it, and ultimately it will have to secure a majority in both houses in order to become law.

    "That will take time, that's not something that is likely to happen this side of Christmas I would have thought."

    - Digital Desk

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