Two-thirds of ministers will campaign in favour of abortion; Cabinet majority backs 12-week limit

Almost two thirds of the Cabinet have confirmed that they fully support legalising abortion up to 12 weeks and will publicly advocate and campaign to achieve it, the Irish Examiner can reveal.

The news comes amid growing ministerial fears the referendum could be rejected. There are also outstanding differences within the Cabinet over the proposal to legalise abortion in all circumstances up to 12 weeks.

Cork-based ministers Simon Coveney and Michael Creed have stated their concerns about the 12-week limit, and such concerns are known to be shared by other rural ministers such as Heather Humphreys and Denis Naughten.

Ministers meet today to discuss the draft heads of the bill to provide for a referendum on abortion before agreeing a final wording on March 6.

Those who are committed to campaign for repeal and to advocate and campaign for the 12-weeks limit are: Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe, Health Minister Simon Harris, Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty, Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy, Culture Minister Josepha Madigan, Childrens Minister Katherine Zappone and Transport Minister Shane Ross.

Super junior minister Finian McGrath, who also sits at the Cabinet table, said that ministers have a duty to sell the proposal at national and local level.

“Every Cabinet minister has a responsibility to campaign actively both nationally and in their local constituencies. I personally am a member of the repeal in Dublin Bay North but ministers must go out and campaign as this is closer than people think,” he told the Irish Examiner.

Mr McGrath called on his colleagues to read the report of the Oireachtas committee on the Eighth Amendment and see how and why the 12-week limit came about.

Agriculture Minister Michael Creed has expressed his deep concerns and opposition to the proposal to allow abortions in the first three months of pregnancy but sources in Government have said he is unlikely to campaign against his colleagues.

“He is unlikely to be in the vanguard in this debate as he has the scars of the 1983 campaign,” a source said.

A spokesman for Mr Coveney said he fully supported the move to repeal the Eighth Amendment and would campaign for that.

“He has some reservations with one aspect of the committee’s report, but ... Mr Harris’ job is to prepare legislation in line with the report and the Tánaiste’s opportunity to change legislation is in the Dail,” his spokesman said.

Communications Minister Denis Naughten is said to be in favour of the referendum but is awaiting the wording of the legislation before he decides what to do further, his spokeswoman said.

Business Minister Heather Humphreys is adopting a similar wait and see approach as is Education Minister Richard Bruton.

Junior Defence Minister Paul Kehoe, who sits at Cabinet, told the Irish Examiner he is still considering what he called a “deeply personal and emotive issue”.

“As I have already stated, I support the decision of the Government to put this issue to the people. I’m conscious that this is a deeply personal and emotive issue for people. I intend to give full consideration to the proposed legislation when it is published,” he said.

Neither Rural Affairs Minister Michael Ring nor his adviser Daniel Rowan responded to several queries from the Irish Examiner yesterday.

Ms Doherty, speaking yesterday, said those ministers advocating repeal would be out campaigning for a yes vote. She also strongly suggested the referendum could now be held in June as opposed to late May, which is the preference of Mr Harris.

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

The minister also thinks her comments were “jumped on”. “We have’t started the campaign yet. Every time I seem to open my mouth, people jump on it because it means something other than what it actually means.”

Meanwhile, the chair of the abortion committee, Catherine Noone, said the lack of an agreed party position within Fine Gael does present difficulties.

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