Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has rejected claims he is failing to show leadership by refusing to explain his view on the abortion referendum. “Having listened, I will lead,” he said.
He said there was no reason for him to explain his opinions until at least next month, despite growing criticism by opposition parties over his failure to confirm where he stood on the issue.
Speaking to reporters outside the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, yesterday after it emerged he will push out the deadline for revealing his own position until at least February, Mr Varadkar said he needed to see the referendum question “in black and white” before taking a view.
Labour leader Brendan Howlin and Fianna Fáil health spokesperson Billy Kelleher among others accused him of showing a lack of leadership on the issue at a time when many TDs were disclosing their views. Mr Varadkar, however, said he is taking the right action.
“Well, first of all, I don’t think it’ll be March”, Mr Varadkar said when asked if he may wait until then to put his view forward due to the fact the referendum bill question may not be known until then.
“What I’ve said consistently is that I’ll give my view when I know what the wording is. I appreciate some people have decided to say how they will vote without having seen the wording. I’m a little more cautious, I’d actually like to sit down and see the question in black and white, to know what the question is before I vote.
“I think we’ll have the wording quite soon, and I don’t think it’s going to take until March to do that. And I’ll be happy to give my opinion at that stage. But I also think part of leadership is listening, and I did want to listen to the views of Cabinet.
“I wanted to listen to my parliamentary party and their views, I listened to their views for five-and-a-half hours, and I’m paying attention to the debate that’s now happening in the Dáil and Seanad. So having listened, I will lead,” he said.
Meanwhile, Mr Varadkar has said he was open to TDs and senators opposed to potential new laws allowing unrestricted access to abortion in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy putting forward alternatives, despite also warning it may be too late to do so.
This week, the results of an Irish Examiner poll showed 15 TDs and four senators from Fine Gael were opposed to the 12-week limit, with 27 TDs and 12 senators from the party yet to express a view.
Further, 23 TDs and senators from Fianna Fáil were opposed to the 12-week limit, with 14 TDs and six senators from the party yet to express a view. It also showed no TD or senator polled had put forward a coherent or detailed alternative to the 12-week limit.
Questioned about the poll findings, Mr Varadkar said alternatives can be put forward. However, in light of the Citizens Assembly and Oireachtas abortion committee’s work, he said such alternatives will be “very difficult” to consider.
“For anyone to go back to square one and come up with an alternative proposal would be very difficult, but it is of course up to people to do that if they so wish,” he said.
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