Simon Harris rejects Mick Wallace’s abortion bill as unconstitutional

Health Minister Simon Harris says legislative proposals by a TD for abortions to be allowed in cases of fatal foetal abnormalities are “unconstitutional” but added that he thinks the current situation is “totally unacceptable”.

His comments come as the Cabinet looks set to decide whether or not to allow a group of Independent Alliance Ministers a free vote on the Dáil motion next week.

Alliance member and junior minister Finian McGrath last night told the Irish Examiner that the group may in fact back down and not support the Dáil motion, if they as a majority decide to heed legal advice on it.

Mr McGrath and fellow alliance ministers Shane Ross, and John Halligan will meet today and decide whether to support Independent TD Mick Wallace’s bill.

Mr Harris declared that he would not accept Deputy Wallace’s legislation and that the advice from the attorney general is that the proposals are “very clearly unconstitutional”.

“I’ve been very clear on a personal level that I find the current situation in relation to fatal foetal abnormality utterly unacceptable. I would like to see it changed. However, as a minister in Government and specifically as a minister for health, I’m duty bound to only support legislation that will actually make an impact in relation to the lives of people that Deputy Wallace is trying to benefit.”

The Government have set in a motion a citizen’s assembly which it says will recommend what amendments should or should not be made to Ireland’s abortion laws.

Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald yesterday signalled that ministers are expected to toe the line on government matters, but she left the door open on alliance ministers supporting the bill: “The programme for government is the baseline document on which we obviously seek agreement around the Cabinet table. Obviously, we’ll be having discussions as various issues arise which perhaps haven’t been contemplated in the programme for government.”

Mr Wallace’s proposals are that a perinatologist and obstetrician can certify if a foetus is incompatible with life and that a termination is then allowed. Fianna Fáil are set to get a free vote on the bill next Thursday while Sinn Féin, Labour, the Social Democrats, Anti-Austerity Alliance-People Before Profit, and the Green Party are expected to support the bill.

The Cabinet will meet on Tuesday and discuss the attorney general’s advice.

Finian McGrath said that if the majority of the five alliance ministers heed the attorney general’s advice, that would be their position overall. The alliance will meet today. The disabilities minister also said there is a need to speed up the process around deciding on Ireland’s abortion laws, to repeal the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution protecting the life of the unborn and have a referendum on the issues.

“My first choice is a free vote and to also support families affected by fatal foetal abnormalities. But I want to hear the other members [of the alliance]. If the majority decide to listen to the advice of the attorney general, that will be our position. My personal view is I have to take on board the attorney general advice but we need to speed up the process and repeal the Eighth [amendment] and have a referendum.”


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