No ‘multi question’ abortion ballot

Political Correspondent

The Oireachtas committee examining the abortion laws has been told it cannot recommend a multi-question ‘preferendum’ on the future of the eighth amendment.

Senior counsel Nuala Butler told the committee such a move would be unconstitutional during a three-hour private meeting of the group yesterday.

The Irish Examiner understands Ms Butler was asked whether the option, which has been raised a number of times by committee members in recent weeks, could be considered as a possible avenue for the planned vote next May or June.

However, she said the move, which would see the public asked to vote on a number of descending options, would be cumbersome and specifically note it is unconstitutional under current referenda rules.

Ms Butler outlined the benefits and difficulties of six different options being examined by the committee on how to address Ireland’s abortion laws at the meeting.

While deliberately not outlining any preferences, she is understood to have said a basic repeal, or repeal and replace with legislation, are the most straightforward referenda question options to ask, while others pose difficulties.

The advice, which will be discussed publicly today, was given during the meeting which also saw the committee remain divided on whether to hold a key vote to repeal or retain the Eighth Amendment today.

As reported in Monday’s Irish Examiner, a number of pro-choice members of the committee last week lodged motions asking for the group to be allowed to vote on whether to repeal or retain existing abortion laws at the end of each of its three modules, the first of which ends today.

However, while Ruth Coppinger, Lynn Ruane, Clare Daly, Catherine Murphy, Jan O’Sullivan, Louise O’Reilly, Jonathan O’Brien, and Paul Gavan put down the motions, others including Billy Kelleher and Hildegarde Naughton do not believe a vote at this stage is helpful.

This, they told yesterday’s meeting, is because a module by module vote could corner the committee into a position before it has heard all evidence, and may make its hearings more and not less divisive.

During the meeting, all committee members said they do not want to support a motion that would divide the committee. However, none of the motions have been withdrawn. The issue is expected to be discussed during the second of this afternoon’s committee meetings.

Separately, the committee is due to hear from the author of the report into the death of Savita Halappanavar, Sabaratnam Arulkumaran, and the chair of the Institute of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists Peter Boylan today.

Prof Arulkumaran will tell the committee in an opening statement “Ireland can and should provide first-class reproductive and sexual health based on rights”.

The meeting will be attended by Mattie McGrath and Ronan Mullen, the latter of whom attended yesterday’s private meeting for two minutes before departing. Both Mr McGrath and Mr Mullen last week threatened to quit the committee over an alleged pro-choice bias.

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