Taoiseach Enda Kenny has promised that a Citizen’s Assembly in Ireland will look at the issues surrounding the Eighth Amendment to Ireland’s Constitution – the ban on abortion.
He said the debate over abortion has divided Irish society for a long time and that it was important to gauge what level of consensus there is for a change in legislation. He added that it was vital that the selection of members for the Citizen’s Assembly be done carefully with respect to age, gender and region.
Its proposals will be sent to an all-party Oireachtas committee, whose recommendations will then be decided upon by a free vote among TDs.
Cruel, inhuman or degrading
On June 10, the UN Human Rights Committee said Ireland’s ban on abortion subjugated a woman carrying a foetus with a fatal abnormality to discrimination and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. Health Minister Simon Harris described these findings as very upsetting and that they only furthered the need for urgency when dealing with the issue.
He said the current situation regarding foetal fatal abnormalities is unsatisfactory and believes this should be one of the first issues discussed by the assembly. He added that the assembly was not a stalling tactic and that a mature and informed discussion was needed.
Sinn Fein deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald said the State’s position on the Eighth Amendment is untenable and that there needs to be a referendum. She described the Irish government’s delay as unacceptable and said that the Eighth Amendment needs to be replaced and the legislative framework needs to be revisited.
Meanwhile the Social Protection Minister, Leo Varadkar, defended Mr Kenny, after the Taoiseach was criticised for his comments regarding the issue.
Mr Kenny claimed that Ireland had voted on three occasions to keep the Eighth Amendment and campaigners have asked him to clarify his remarks. Mr Varadkar, however, said it was simply a case of the Mr Kenny misspeaking.
“In fairness to the Taoiseach, it happens to all of us at the best of times, sometimes we make mistakes,” he said. “The factual position is that there were actually four referendums, not three subsequent to 1983.
“What he said was incorrect and I understand subsequently he has actually clarified that, or at least he says he has.
“So I think it’s just a case of the Taoiseach misspeaking on that.”