Abortion debate won’t clash with papal visit

Enda Kenny has discussed the country’s abortion laws with the Vatican and outlined the work of the Citizens’ Assembly which is examining the potential for a referendum on the issue.

However, he ruled out any potential referendum or divisive debate around one impacting on the Pope’s confirmed visit to Ireland in 2018, as the trip will be made in August when no such votes are traditionally held.

Mr Kenny outlined how during his private talks with Vatican secretary of state Cardinal Pietro Parolin, he explained how the Citizens’ Assembly will examine potential changes to the country’s existing laws or whether to recommend the abolition of the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution.

“I spoke afterwards to Cardinal Parolin, Archbishop Paul Gallagher [secretary of state for relations] in regard to the question of the amendment, I gave them an up-to-date account of the background to the Citizens’ Assembly and the work that it is doing. But also the complexity of the arguments that are there for the 99 citizens who are attending on that.”

The confirmation of the 2018 trip by the Pontiff prompted a mixed reaction from ministers as to whether it will be impacted on by any debate around abortion.

The assembly has nine months to finish its work, potentially producing a report by the middle of next year. An Oireachtas committee will then examine the issue before final recommendations are made. These could include a proposal to hold a referendum on liberalising the abortion laws.

Asked about the planned visit yesterday, Transport Minister Shane Ross said: “I just think, simply, there may be better times to come than in the middle of a controversial matter in which he might get embroiled.”

But Transport Minister Leo Varadkar disagreed. Speaking at a separate Dublin event, he said: “When it comes to any decision on a referendum on the Eighth Amendment, I think that’s a totally separate issue and shouldn’t affect the timing [of the visit] in any way.

“I think people will be able to have a debate about that issue [Ireland’s abortion laws] separate to the visit of anybody from overseas,” he said.

Mr Varadkar said the reception for the Pope was certain to be “different” to that of Pope John Paul II in 1979 .

But “hundreds of thousands if not millions of people” would still attend the visit as he is “a very popular Pope, and the visit is very welcome as well”.

The exact details of the trip have yet to be agreed by the Vatican. But the Pontiff is expected to spend at least two days in Dublin, to join in the World Convention of Families.

Pope Francis previously attended the same event when it was held in 2015 in Philadelphia, but turned his visit into a six-day tour of the US.

When asked yesterday whether the August 2018 visit would clash with any debate around abortion or the referendum, Mr Kenny responded: “In a general sense obviously you would not hold any referendum in the month of August in Ireland.”

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