Leo Varadkar hopes 8th Amendment debate will meet deadline

The Taoiseach is hoping a cross-party committee examining Ireland’s abortion laws will meet a December deadline on a decision after the members voted, by a majority in favour of not retaining the Eighth Amendment “in full”.

Leo Varadkar hopes 8th Amendment debate will meet deadline

Leo Varadkar said the vote has reassured him that the tight deadline will be met despite growing tension within the committee, and amid a likelihood at least two dissenting reports may be released by some committee members.

Furthermore, a witness who opposes repealing the Eighth Amendment is expected to say she will not attend a hearing of the committee next week due to an alleged pro-choice bias.

On Wednesday, the Oireachtas Committee on the Eighth Amendment voted in favour of not retaining article 40.3.3 of the Constitution in full.

The 15 to three vote, with two abstentions and one non-appearance by a Fianna Fáil member, was based on a proposal put forward by Sinn Féin’s Jonathan O’Brien and seconded by Fianna Fáil health spokesman Billy Kelleher.

It means the committee has now formally accepted the public will need to be asked to change the Constitution to some extent in relation to abortion laws, and the committee can further begin examining what this means in detail.

Arriving at the EU Council summit in Brussels yesterday, Mr Varadkar welcomed the committee’s initial vote.

Asked if he is confident the committee can reach its conclusions by mid-December, he said: “I’m aware of the decision that the committee made and my objective obviously, what I’d like to do really is to wait until the committee comes with its conclusions in December.

“I am confident though the committee will be able to come to conclusions and I think the fact that they had a vote and started making decisions yesterday gives me some assurance that they will be able to come to conclusions by the end of December which the Government can then take forward in the new year.

“We would like to have as much and as broad consensus as is possible and I want to give them the opportunity to hear all the evidence before coming to their final viewpoint.”

Meanwhile, consultant psychiatrist Patricia Casey pulled out of a planned appearance before the committee, labelling its work “biased” and “unbalanced”.

In a statement yesterday, Prof Casey, newspaper columnist and co-founder of the religious think-tank the Iona Institute, said she is “unwilling to participate in a process that is so deeply imbalanced in respect of those invited to present evidence”.

“It has become increasingly clear that the process of the committee has been so arranged as to reach a pre-set decision without balanced consideration of any evidence that runs contrary to this pre-determined outcome,” she said.

The view was repeated by lobby group the Pro-Life Campaign and Independent senator Rónán Mullen, who clashed with Fine Gael TD Kate O’Connell yesterday, claiming the vote showed the committee’s bias.

However, Ms O’Connell, the National Women’s Council of Ireland, and others welcomed the initial vote.

It is believed that Mr Mullen and Independent TD Mattie McGrath may publish an alternative version of any of the committee’s findings, while a similar step may be taken by some pro-choice members over concerns that the recommendations will not go far enough.

However, only the committee’s official recommendations will be laid before the Dáil.

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