‘No need to delay’ abortion legislation

Fianna Fáil health spokesman Stephen Donnelly

The Government has been called on to proceed with legislation to enact the Eighth Amendment referendum result after Fianna Fáil received independent legal advice which it says contradicts concerns about court challenges.

Fianna Fáil health spokesman Stephen Donnelly told the Irish Examiner that his party’s legal advice contradicts the instruction from the Government’s attorney general that the new laws must await the court outcome.

“We have taken legal advice that says there is no legal impediment to the Oireachtas progressing legislation in an instance where there is a legal challenge to the a referendum,” said Mr Donnelly.

The Government received legal advice earlier this month that it cannot proceed to make new laws enacting the abortion reforms until ongoing court challenges to the vote result have been decided.

Health Minister Simon Harris recently said legislation to regulate access to terminations and implement the result of the referendum on the Eighth Amendment will not be introduced before the autumn.

“My understanding, based on legal advice, is that as of today the Eighth Amendment remains in the Constitution until the president finds himself in a position to sign the referendum bill —and obviously that requires the legal process to be concluded,” Mr Harris said recently.

Fianna Fáil has now taken independent legal advice on the situation, which they say contradicts the attorney general’s advice about court challenges delaying the referendum bill.

Mr Donnelly said : “The Government are operating on attorney general advice. We have to respect that, we must take it seriously. We are not saying they are acting in bad faith. But the reality is there was an overwhelming vote. Every month that this is delayed hundreds and hundreds of women are deprived of the medical care that the country has voted for.”

It is understood that this position has been relayed to the Government and the health minister’s office.

A spokesman for Minister Harris said last night that work is still ongoing on the referendum legislation but reiterated that it can not be progressed until “challenges were out of the way”.

Fianna Fáil officials have privately said if there was a snap general election, then the Fine Gael-led Government may try to send out a message that Fianna Fáil would not pass the legislation if in power. Party TDs have pledged that if, if in government, they would implement the referendum results.

Mr Donnelly argued that it is now Fianna Fáil’s position that it is “absolutely appropriate” for the Oireachtas to progress the legislation immediately.

“If we proceed with the Government’s plan or position, the will of the people can be frustrated with vexatious claims about any referendum,” he said. “We are calling on the Government to publish the legislation as a matter of urgency and bring it to second-stage before the [Dáil summer] recess so the committee can have it ready for the debate in September.”

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