The Labour minister’s comments come as Taoiseach Enda Kenny all but ruled out addressing whether the right-to-die should be legislated for by the next government.
Mr Ó Ríordáin highlighted the difficult situation that was faced by the family of the late Marie Fleming, a multiple sclerosis sufferer who lost a court battle to end her life. The right-to-die campaigner passed away in December 2003 after she and her partner Tom Curran failed in a landmark court battle to legislate for end-of-life help.
Mr Curran, in an interview this week, criticised the outgoing government’s failure to address assisted suicide, noting that the courts had ruled there was nothing to stop the Oireachtas from changing the law.
“It doesn’t need to be put to the people. As was stated in the High Court, it doesn’t need a referendum, there is no constitutional ban, so the constitution doesn’t have to be changed. So all it needs is legislation,” he said.
Mr Ó Ríordáin, speaking to, said the issue of assisted suicide should go before a public forum and then possibly be put to a referendum:
“It’s a very difficult issue. Who am to say that what they are advocating is wrong? But it is something we need a level of investigation [on].”
Mr Kenny has said that the issue would probably require a referendum, but that it was not something he was contemplating even if returned to government.
“We have had legal advice on that, it is not constitutionally possible. It would probably require a referendum but it is not one I am considering now,” he said.
Tánaiste Joan Burton has suggested the issue should be examined, saying she was guided by the approach which was “not to prolong life unnecessarily but to provide pain relief”.
This was something, in terms of care situations, that she had been personally involved in, the Labour leader said. One of her ministers has also suggested a public forum could examine assisted suicide over the lifetime of the next government.
Mr Ó Ríordáin added: “I think that would take the party politics out of it. We would have a situation then where we could hopefully look at the rights and wrongs of it, ” he said.
Independent TD John Halligan moved a private Bill in the Dail earlier this month to provide for a “dignified and peaceful end of life” for qualifying individuals.
He said the Dying with Dignity Bill would “recognise the right of clearly consenting adults who are enduring intolerable physical suffering to seek medical help to end their lives”.
The Waterford TD said that the issue was being debated throughout Europe, but the coalition parties voted down the proposed legislation.