Latest: Abortion referendum to take place on May 25

Latest: The date for the abortion referendum has been set for Friday, May 25.

Latest: Abortion referendum to take place on May 25

Update 5.09pm: The date for the abortion referendum has been set for Friday, May 25.

The abortion referendum Bill was passed in the Seanad this afternoon.

Health Minister Simon Harris announced the widely anticipated date. Polls will open at 7am and close at 10pm.

Citizens will be asked whether they want to replace the Eighth Amendment, which gives the mother and unborn an equal right to life, with wording that hands responsibility for setting Ireland's abortion laws to TDs.

If the public votes to repeal the constitutional provision, the Government intends to table legislation that would permit women to abort within 12 weeks of pregnancy.

There has been a broad welcome from both sides of the debate for the announcement of the date for the abortion referendum.

Together for Yes, the national civil society campaign to remove the 8th Amendment, said: "May 25th is our chance to repeal the harmful 8th amendment once and for all."

Ailbhe Smyth, Co-Director of the group, said: "It is the day when we can stand up as a nation and say we want women to be able to make personal, private decisions about their pregnancies with the support of their doctors and families at home.

"It is the day when we say we want to create a compassionate, supportive environment for women in Ireland who need to access abortion services.

"It is the day when we decide we will care for and protect women who are vulnerable - because sometimes a private matter deserves public support."

Liam Herrick, Director of Irish Council of Civil Liberties, and one of the speakers at a Together For Yes launch in Cork this evening, said: "ICCL opposed the 8th Amendment in 1983, along with many lawyers and the Attorney General of the time, because we believed the Amendment would bring legal uncertainty and cause harm to women.”

"Over the years we have been proven right in those fears. We have seen how the 8th Amendment has failed to provide clarity for the medical profession.

"We have also seen how the Amendment has caused a wide range of human rights violations, as has been consistently found by international human rights bodies."

Mary Favier, a GP in Cork, said the amendment also puts doctors at risk.

Ms Favier said: "As doctors, we want to support our patients in every way we can. But currently the 8th Amendment ties our hands. It is harmful to women who cannot access the care and support they need.

"And it is harmful to us as doctors because we cannot prioritise the health of our patients. We are campaigning together for a yes vote because we believe people want to see a more compassionate Ireland that respects and protects a woman at a time of greatest need."

The Pro Life Campaign has said that the public is entitled to "a fact-based debate where the reality of what repeal would inevitably lead to is discussed openly and honestly".

Dr Ruth Cullen of the Pro Life Campaign said: "The pro-life movement has been ready for today’s announcement and is mobilised countrywide like never before. The political chaos at Cabinet in the past few days has brought home to many people just how poorly thought out the Government’s proposals are, in particular, the suggestion that there would be no way of restricting abortion if repeal happened.

"It has now been confirmed that this is just not possible.

"As a movement, we are united behind one goal of ensuring that mothers and their unborn babies continue to be fully protected in law. The only way to ensure this happens is to Vote No on 25th May."

Update 4.31pm: Seanad passes abortion referendum Bill

The abortion referendum Bill has passed in the Seanad, meaning that a vote on the 8th amendment will happen this year.

Ministers are expected to confirm the date for the referendum within the next hour.

The Seanad voted 40-10 in favour of allowing a referendum.

Update 2.20pm: Former Tánaiste Michael McDowell argues in favour of repeal as abortion bill reaches final stages

The final stages of the abortion referendum bill is being debated in the Seanad this afternoon.

If they approve it later, a vote on the future of the Eighth amendment will be formally confirmed, with May 25th the likely polling day.

Senator and former Tánaiste Michael McDowell spoke this afternoon in support of repealing the Eighth amendment during the final round of debate this afternoon.

"The issue here is not whether a fertilised ovum in a petri dish in an in vitro fertilisation clinic is a human life.

"In one sense it is, in the same sense that an acorn is tree life in one sense but an acorn is not a tree and likewise a fertilised ovum is not a person, a human person."

Michael McDowell
Michael McDowell

Earlier: Tánaiste denies doing U-turn on abortion

Update 10.30am: Simon Coveney has been accused of a flip-flop by pro-life campaigners following his decision to back unrestricted terminations up to 12 weeks into pregnancy after initial reservations.

The Tánaiste says he makes no apologies for thinking through the issue in as much detail as he has.

He also claims his concerns are reflected by many others around the country.

Yesterday, Cabinet approved the draft laws they would try to bring in IF the 8th Amendment is repealed.

Minister Coveney says they have allayed his fears: "I don't categorise it as a U-turn at all.

"I couldn't support the 12 weeks proposal unless it was accompanied with what we have got yesterday from the Minister for Health which is a very strict and detailed protocol which involves a lot more time for consideration."

Mr Coveney also suggested that the referendum on abortion could be held earlier than the probable date of May 25.

"Once the legislation passes through the Seanad we will be able to announce a date at that stage," he said.

"There are two possible dates that we're looking at towards the end of May, not necessarily the last Friday, it could be the second last Friday."

Earlier: Attorney General to consider giving future abortion laws special status

The Attorney General has been asked to look at ways to make sure, if abortion laws are ever re-visited in the future, they would get more scrutiny than regular legislation.

The move is being seen as a way to address concerns raised by Tánaiste Simon Coveney.

Yesterday, Simon Coveney went into cabinet asking that if any new abortion laws were to come in, it would require two thirds of the Oireachtas to vote in favour of changing them again.

But he was quickly, and publicly, shot down by the Taoiseach.

"The Attorney General advised me that it would be contrary to Article 15 of the Constitution to and therefore could not be included in this legislation and therefore will not be," said Mr Varadkar.

But playing to his Coveney's concerns the Attorney General has been asked to see if there is a way of giving future abortion laws special status, according to Simon Harris: "To look and see if there is a way of outlining if the Irish people are or the Irish people's representatives wished to revisit elements of this in the future that there would be a process in place that would be above and beyond that of changing a regular law."

The government yesterday approved the heads of bill of the legislation they will try to bring in if the Eighth is repealed.

The Seanad will likely approve the referendum bill later, meaning we should know when polling day will be by tomorrow.

Digital Desk

More in this section

Lunchtime News Wrap

A lunchtime summary of content highlights on the Irish Examiner website. Delivered at 1pm each day.

Sign up