Minister denies confusing repeal issue, says vote may be held in June

Employment Affairs Minister Regina Doherty denies that Government figures are “muddying the waters” over the referendum on the Eighth Amendment and has also suggested that the vote might now go ahead in June.

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Regina Doherty.

Clarifying comments where she said the Government could lose the referendum, the Fine Gael minister said those ministers advocating repeal will be out campaigning for a yes vote.

However, the Irish Examiner understands that no official decision has been taken by Fine Gael about campaigning or funding for a referendum position, with just weeks before the wording is published. Officials with Fine Gael’s national executive have not discussed this and no funding has been set aside for any campaign.

Ms Doherty played down her weekend comments to reporters yesterday after she warned that with the current mixed poll results that the no side could win.

She said she is fully supportive of repeal and of the proposal to allow abortion without reservation up to the 12th week of pregnancy — the position adopted by the Government after Oireachtas Committee recommendations.

“On the basis of the poll yesterday [Sunday], there are obviously a very large cohort of people in this country who have a problem with 12 weeks,” said Ms Doherty. “I think unless we provide them with factual, medical, and clinical evidence that was presented to the Oireachtas committee and the Citizen’ Assembly, they won’t know where we came from with the 12 weeks.

“So there is a body of work that needs to be done here between now and the referendum, whenever it is in May or June, or it’s not going to pass itself.”

Ms Doherty also said she thinks her comments are being “jumped on”.

“We haven’t started the campaign yet,” she said. “Every time I seem to open my mouth, people jump on it because it means something other than what it actually means.”

Asked if Fine Gael or ministers will take a lead in the campaign, she replied: “I think you will see some Fine Gael people expressing the views that are supporting the Government position or some Fine Gaelers who have different views, that just reflects Irish society.”

However, some ministers have expressed reservations about the 12-week proposal. This may divide Cabinet members when the campaign begins. Asked if their positions are muddying the waters for the vote, Ms Doherty said: “I reject that, I don’t think there is anyone creating problems or muddying the waters. You have people reflecting their own personal views which is what we are accepting with a vote of conscience with no [party] whip in here. I wouldn’t expect anybody with personal views to campaign for something they don’t believe.”

She also suggests the vote could go ahead in June, later than expected and a situation which could likely see fewer younger people vote as colleges will be closed.

“The campaign is not going to be starting in earnest until a number of weeks before the referendum,” she said. “A date hasn’t even been set yet, it will most likely be June.”

Meanwhile, the Cabinet will discuss the wording for the referendum today.

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