The minister for justice was speaking in Geneva as part of the United Nations Universal Periodic Review of Ireland — its second such review and the first since 2011.
The issue of abortion in Ireland was raised by delegates of other countries alongside other matters such as Ireland’s response to the migrant crisis, racism, access to education, and homelessness.
Ms Fitzgerald was delayed in attending the session in Geneva due to first Cabinet meeting of the new government being held in Dublin, but when addressing delegates, she admitted that Ireland still has “problems and challenges as a society that we have to face”.
“The issue of abortion continues to be a very live issue in Ireland and we recognise the need for our discourse to be respectful of differing views,” Ms Fitzgerald said.
“Recent public debate has concentrated on extending the law on abortion to cover cases of fatal foetal abnormalities or cases where a woman is pregnant as a result of rape to a broader legal regime that allows abortion where the health of a woman is of concern.
“None of the above measures are possible under the current regulation of constitutional and statute law. The Government have made a commitment in the most recent Programme for Government to establish a Citizens’ Assembly to make recommendations to the Dáil on further constitutional changes and they will consider the Eighth Amendment as part of this work.”
The Government’s response is being closely monitored by community and voluntary groups here. Mark Kelly, executive director of the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, was quick to ask regarding the Citizens’ Assembly: “When, how, and with what powers?”
Ms Fitzgerald outlined some of the developments in Ireland on human rights since the last review in 2011, not least what she called “the milestone” of the referendum which paved the way for same-sex marriage legislation. She also praised the children’s rights referendum and the success of citizenship ceremonies.
Earlier, Eugene Banks of the Department of Justice had outlined how measures to help refugees from the Syrian crisis and elsewhere will be stepped up in the coming months.
He said under the Irish Refugee Protection programme established last year, Ireland will take in up to 4,000 people over two years, including 2,620 people who land in Italy and Greece under the EU relocation programme, and 520 people from Lebanon under the refugee resettlement programme.
He said those coming here would most likely be from Syria, Iraq, and Eritrea, and that 10 people have already come from locations in Greece, with 31 and 40 more to follow in May and June, respectively. Mr Banks said it was planned that 40 people would come to Ireland every eight weeks after that, with all those arriving in Ireland entitled to avail of assistance such as free GP care and access to primary and secondary education for children.
“Ireland is ready, willing, and equipped to meet our commitments,” he said.
Other issues were raised at the hearing, including a call from the Holy See that Ireland address the separation of young prisoners in detention facilities, while Iran was among those raising concerns over racism here.