The current Government may never get the chance to fully introduce abortion laws into Ireland, even if the people decide to repeal the Eighth Amendment, according to Health Minister Simon Harris.
Speaking in Dublin on the fringes of the Easter commemoration ceremony, Mr Harris said it is his wish that the Government would act on the people’s wishes but that it cannot be guaranteed.
He said the chances of the legislation being passed post-referendum on May 25 is “subject to everyone honouring the confidence-and-supply” deal between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael.
“If the people of Ireland vote yes, there will be an obligation on those of us in Leinster House to implement their decision,” he said. “I certainly hope that all political parties facilitate that.
“We obviously have a confidence-and-supply arrangement with Fianna Fáil which promises another budget and that budget is not until October. And we know that many pieces of legislation associated with that budget don’t get passed until the new year. Subject to everyone honouring what they have signed up to in terms of confidence and supply I expect we could get the legislation passed.”
Mr Harris said the timing of a general election is a matter for quite a few people, and publicly everyone is saying they are committed to the confidence-and-supply deal.
“If there is a genuine commitment from all sides, then it should provide adequate time,” he said. “But it is also important that the Oireachtas takes its time to get it right and scrutinise the legislation. Often people have already questioned our timing in terms of the May 25 deadline, but the political system has shown its ability to meet that deadline. Yes, I think legislation could be passed into law by the end of 2018.”
Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald said Mr Harris’s comments are “most unfortunate”.
“The reality is that when we go to the polls on May 25, the net question is to repeal the Eighth Amendment,” she said. “That is the first piece of work. Thereafter there has to be new legislation. The minister having published the legislation... I don’t think it is helpful, him to be speculating that way.
“Absolutely this Dáil will and must legislate on this issue. This issue has been marked by delay and a lack of political leadership so I think it is unfortunate the minister is thinking along such lines.”
Mr Harris also came to the defence of Tánaiste Simon Coveney over his handling of the abortion issue.
He said: “I have said in recent days that what Simon Coveney has done is honourable, that is what legislators should do. He has teased the issues through and satisfied himself and there is now greater clarity around the issue, which is welcome.
“It will be very powerful that you will have both the Taoiseach and Tánaiste campaigning together for a yes vote, that will send a powerful message to many people. I also think the fact that you have someone who wasn’t certain at the start and then looked at the issue and is now more satisfied with the proposal.”
“We have clarified what is and isn’t possible and the attorney general has made clear the two-thirds majority proposal was not possible.”
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