Abortion legislation: Confusion over numbers and make-up of committee

There is disagreement on the make-up and numbers for a special Oireachtas committee that will now examine Ireland’s abortion laws and decide the terms for a possible referendum.

Abortion legislation: Confusion over numbers and make-up of committee

Government and some opposition figures say there will be 20 members on the new body, made up of 16 TDs and four senators.

However, a letter from the cerk of the Seanad to senators yesterday confirmed there would be seven senators on the committee, which could bring its numbers up to 23.

The confusion comes as the names of the key individuals for parties and groups are being finalised, with government sources saying a deadline of this evening was in place for this.

Under the 20-member committee, the Fine Gael government would have five TDs, with TDs Kate O’Connell, Bernard Durkan and Regina Doherty mentioned.

Party senators being considered include Catherine Noone, Jerry Buttimer and Colm Burke. It is unclear if Ms Doherty, the chief whip, would be allowed though sit on the committee.

Fianna Fail has agreed its four TDs for the committee will include Billy Kelleher, Anne Rabbitte, James Browne and Lisa Chambers.

Sinn Fein will put TDs Louise O’Reilly and Jonathan O’Brien on the committee while Labour’s Jan O’Sullivan, Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy and Independents4Change’s Clare Daly will be members.

The Greens will not be represented while Rural Independent TDs will be represented by Mattie McGrath. Solidarity/People Before Profit will be represented by Brid Smith, who will be replaced by Ruth Coppinger on occasion.

The identity of some of the senators for the committee remains to be decided.

After a recommendation from the Seanad’s procedure group recently that seven senators be on the committee, the clerk of the Seanad, Martin Groves, yesterday told members by email that it was still agreed that seven senators would be on the committee.

“The nominees will be announced by the Cathaoirleach on the next sitting day. There has been no change to this situation,” wrote the clerk.

But government and some opposition sources maintain that a decision by the Oireachtas business committee has decided there will be 20 on the committee.

The committee is expected to begin its work possibly in July or in September.

It will only receive a report from the citizens assembly in June, which on the weekend recommended that there be a referendum to change Ireland’s abortion laws and permit terminations in a range of circumstances.

If the committee completes its work within six months, as agreed, it potentially could recommend draft heads for a bill or proposed wording for a referendum by next spring which would then go before the Dail and be voted on by TDs.

While some TDs are cautious about the time involved to decide on the best way forward, others privately say they would like the contentious issue of an abortion referendum resolved before a chances of a potential general election if the confidence and supply agreement was to collapse between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil before the end its agreed end after three budgets.

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