Fine Gael to meet today for Eighth campaign

Fine Gael will hold a private campaign meeting this morning with party TDs and senators who want to repeal the Eighth Amendment.

It comes following confirmation the referendum will take place on Friday, May 25.

Ministers told the Fine Gael parliamentary party meeting last night they want Health Minister Simon Harris to hold the campaign meeting in Leinster House at 11am this morning, as referendum campaigning began in earnest last night.

In a widely expected move yesterday, Health Minister Simon Harris and Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy said the referendum polling day would take place on Friday, May 25.

Government ministers, speaking after the Seanad passed the referendum bill by 40 votes to 10 and flanked by European Affairs Minister Helen McEntee and Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone, urged the public to come out and cast their vote.

“The referendum bill has now passed all stages of the Oireachtas, Minister Harris has signed the polling day order, and a referendum will be held on Friday May 25,” said Mr Murphy, who has formal responsibility for the poll date due to his local government portfolio.

Standing beside him, Mr Harris said Ireland had “the chance to right the wrong” of the Eighth Amendment.

With the referendum date officially announced, Fine Gael is understood to be preparing to act on its own advice, with Mr Harris due to hold a private meeting this morning with TDs and senators on how Fine Gael’s campaign to repeal the Eighth Amendment will be run.

The meeting will take place at Leinster House and will, among other issues, see participants discuss who should be the party’s national campaign director during the referendum. While sources have tipped Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe to take the role, no decision has been made.

News of the private meeting this morning — confirmed at a three-hour abortion discussion during Fine Gael’s parliamentary party meeting last night — emerged as the Seanad passed the referendum bill by 40 votes to 10, clearing the way for the May 25 date. In an at times divisive debate, Fine Gael senator Jerry Buttimer, Sinn Féin senator Paul Gavan and Labour senator Ivana Bacik all insisted change must take place.

However, backed by more than half of Fianna Fáil’s senators, pro-life members said they could not support the bill. They included Independent senator Ronan Mullen, who said voting for a constitutional change in the belief abortion access will afterwards be limited to 12 weeks is like saying “I’ll leave the front door open, but I really hope the burglars don’t come in past the hallway”.

The passing of the referendum bill and May 25 date came as Tánaiste Simon Coveney told colleagues at last night’s parliamentary party meeting he “regretted” the confusion caused by his two thirds Dáil majority suggestion, with both issues receiving significant opposition party attention yesterday.

While Labour TD Alan Kelly said Mr Harris’s 12 weeks Citizens Assembly suggestion was an attempt to “spare Mr Coveney’s blushes”, Government and pro-choice groups downplayed suggestions the 12-week law could change.

However, the issue gained further attention yesterday after Agriculture Minister Michael Creed told the Irish Examiner the 12-week rule may be changed after the referendum.

Speaking at a Brexit business loans launch in Dublin, Mr Creed said he supports repealing the Eighth Amendment, but he added: “There will probably be as many opinions on the detail of that legislation as there are members of the Oireachtas.”

At separate events, the Together4Yes campaign again called for the public to vote for repeal, while former Fine Gael senator Fidelma Healy Eames and Fine Gael junior finance minister John Paul Phelan launched a pro-life campaign to encourage women to put their children up for adoption, instead of seeking an abortion.

People who want to check if they are registered to vote can log on to checktheregister.ie. A supplementary register will also be put in place, while the postal vote cut-off point will be April 28.

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