Coveney insists on hurdle to abortion changes

Tanaiste Simon Coveney.

Tánaiste Simon Coveney has demanded that a two-thirds Dáil majority will be needed to change Ireland’s abortion law in the future, the Irish Examiner can reveal.

Mr Coveney has demanded the clause is introduced in any final post-referendum law in return for his support for the Government’s abortion plans.

Mr Coveney yesterday said that, despite his initial rejection of plans to allow unrestricted access to abortion up to the 12th week of pregnancy, he is now in favour of the move.

While the U-turn was welcomed by pro-choice groups, it was lambasted by pro-life politicians and campaigners, who described it as a “betrayal” and claimed Mr Coveney had “buckled” under internal pressure.

However, speaking to the Irish Examiner, a spokesperson for Mr Coveney said in return for his support, he wants a clause introduced in any post-referendum law to ensure the legislation cannot be easily changed.

The proposed new law — which will be outlined to Cabinet this morning in a 20-point draft heads of bill document detailed in full in today’s newspaper — includes a series of stipulations on how abortion can be provided should the referendum pass.

However, while Mr Coveney’s clause demand will relate to all aspects of the legislation, it is understood to be specifically focussed on the divisive 12-week limit and pro-life groups’ fears that it could be drastically altered by any future government.

“The Tánaiste is looking for a two-third majority to be necessary if there was ever any attempt to alter the law in the future,” a spokesperson for Mr Coveney said.

“To put that into context, that is more than the combined strength of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil in the current Dáil.

He hopes this will go someway towards countering the reckless claims that our parliament can’t be trusted and to reassure voters that there will be no creeping change over time if they vote repeal.

While the two-thirds clause demand has yet to be signed off on by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, Health Minister Simon Harris, or the Cabinet itself, the formal mention of it is certain to play a key role in the referendum debate in the run-up to polling day.

Mr Coveney’s move is also likely to be an attempt to calm anger from pro-life groups over his sudden decision to back 12 weeks after pro-life politicians and campaigners lashed the Tánaiste for the U-turn last night.

In a lengthy interview on RTE Radio’s Today With Sean O’Rourke programme earlier this year, Mr Coveney said that while he supported the referendum taking place and would vote to repeal the Eighth Amendment, he was against 12-week abortion access.

However, despite the initial comments, Mr Coveney yesterday revised his previous position, saying the fact the 12-week proposals will include a guarantee late-term abortions remain illegal has helped to convince him to support the legislation.

Speaking to the Irish Examiner last night, pro-life Independent TD Mattie McGrath said Mr Coveney had “buckled” under pressure, was “huffing and puffing” for a way out and that pro-life voters “certainly have reason to feel betrayed by him”.

Independent senator Rónán Mullen went further, saying the change cannot be a betrayal “as his position wasn’t even coherent in the beginning” and that Mr Coveney’s “twiddling” had “just made things worse”, while Independent TD Michael Collins said the Tánaiste had been put under internal Government pressure.

Mr Coveney’s change was supported by the Together for Yes campaign and pro-choice TDs, but lambasted by Save the 8th spokeswoman Niamh Uí Bhriain, who said it proves the Government is “scrambling” for referendum support and that politicians cannot be trusted.

Meanwhile, several Fianna Fáil senators have told the Irish Examiner that they will vote against holding a referendum when the referendum bill goes to the Seanad today.

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