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Rebels push for Abortion Referendum – 24 Senators and 39 TD’s, support referendum on abortion according to coalition of representatives figures. However, Government Ministers and cross party sources say there is no significant support for referendum.
Pro life and pro choice members of the Oireachtas are attempting to invoke Article 27 of the Constitution, whereby the President can decline to sign as a law a bill that, ‘contains a proposal of such national importance that the will of the people thereon ought to be ascertained.’ This in essence means that the President may not sign the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill 2013 into law until it is put to the public in a referendum, if a petition by members of the Oireachtas is signed by a majority of the Seanad and a third of the Dail. The President, of course may refuse to comply with the petitioned request, as is his prerogative. So could there be a referendum on Abortion this autumn, possibly on the same day as the referendum on the abolition of the Seanad, and is it possible that the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill 2013 will have to be shelved, to make way for a referendum on the issue? It appears that this could be the case, with pro-life and pro choice TD’s and Senators possibly pulling the rug out from under the Taoiseach, Enda Kenny.
UPDATE: Parties rule out support of petition to the Dail in Irish Independent today: http://www.independent.ie/irish-news/plan-for-referendum-on-abortion-bill-fails-to-win-support-29366876.html
UPDATE: Irish Examiner, Ministers rule out move on abortion referendum: http://www.irishexaminer.com/ireland/ministers-firmly-reject-x-case-referendum-move-234918.html
The clerk of the Oireachtas was approached earlier this week by the coalition of representatives to inquire as to the procedures for invoking article 27 of the constitution and it appears that numbers are growing in support of the move. According to details I have received in confidential documents, from several sources close to the politicians involved, there is cross party support for the move in both Houses of the Oireachtas and Sinn Fein’s position on the matter could be pivotal. However speaking on ‘The Week in Politics’, Sinn Fein’s Pearse Doherty ruled out support from his party, although one member has already pledged his support and the party is due to discuss the issue in the coming days. Depending on the public’s reaction, Sinn Fein may well be motivated to reconsider their position.
The figures I have obtained in briefings from sources close to the process, shows that there is a real possibility that they may get the numbers necessary to petition the President. The process has been initiated in the Dáil by Colm Keaveney TD (Ind.) and John Paul Phelan TD (Fine Gael), and in the Seanad by Senators Paul Bradford (FG) and James Heffernan (Labour). In the Seanad the current preliminary figures stand at twenty-four, with support from members of Fine Gael, Fianna Fail, Labour and Independents, the movement is confident they can get the remainder of the numbers in the Seanad. In the Dail those who have pledged their support are, eleven independents, twelve Fine Gael, twelve Fianna Fail, three Labour and one Sinn Fein. Bearing those figures in mind, that leaves support in the Dail at a total of thirty-nine deputies, so at this point Sinn Fein’s support would be crucial and if they supported the move, a referendum may very well happen. The question now is does Sinn Fein want to take this opportunity to make life difficult for the Government and put the question of legislation for The Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill to the people of Ireland or are they satisfied to proceed with the provisions as they are contained in the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill?
One of the initiators of the process, Colm Keaveney, says, “we need to approach the people to galvanise the prospects of a referendum on this issue”, Keaveney and the others involved, have been working on this for the past fortnight and are confident of support from across the political spectrum. He went on to say that work is in progress on discussions with Sinn Fein on the, “prospects of considering the merit and positive potential of the provisions of Article 27 of the Constitution”, over the next fortnight, before the house adjourns for the summer. Speaking on The Sunday Show with Shane Coleman on Newstalk, Keaveney stated, “who is afraid of giving the people a voice, why would we not want to secure the will of the people on such significantly important legislation?”
However, speaking on the same programme, the Minister for Arts, Sports and Tourism, Leo Varadkar said, “I don’t think a referendum on abortion would be a good idea…I don’t think it would be a good precedent for our democracy to be putting detailed legislation to a referendum…” while Fianna Fails, Averil Power said that, “we haven’t had any discussion on this as a group…and I would be very surprised if they did (get the numbers required), I have no sense that there is that level of support for it.”
Meanwhile, on RTE’s The Week in Politics, Brian Hayes was more categorical saying, ‘”I am aware of the article,” he said. “I don’t think it is going to happen…We’ve already had this debate. We’ve had the referendum. People have already rejected previous governments’ contentions that the X Case ruling should not apply,” he went on to predict that the legislation would be passed, albeit with possibly a few defections from Fine Gael members.
Whether or not this rebel group of TD’s and Senators can get sufficient numbers to put this petition to the President may well come down to the level of support from the public on such a proposition. A survey conducted by Amarach Research on behalf of the pro life organisations, The Life Institute & Family and Life Organisation, earlier this week showed that 86% of voters would prefer to see the issue resolved by a referendum, rather than through legislation. Niamh Ui Bhriain of the Life Institute said that the poll showed that TD’s such as Peter Mathews were more in tune with the public mood than the Cabinet, and that the public did not agree with the bullying attitude of party leaders towards conscience-based objection to the legislation. The poll finds a significant majority of Fine Gael and Labour supporters in favour of a referendum and an interesting fact from the poll is that support is strongest among Fianna Fáil voters at 90%, something that may exercise the minds of Fianna Fail TD’s and Senators considering whether or not they should support petitioning the President.
An earlier poll conducted by IPSOs/MRBI and published in the Irish Times asked a representative sample of the population, “if they were for or against the heads of the Bill to legislate for the Supreme Court X judgment of 1992 permitting abortion where a mother’s life is in danger”, 75 per cent said Yes, 14 per cent said No and 11 per cent had no opinion. Furthermore, 89 per cent said it should be allowed where a woman’s life is at risk and 78 per cent were in favour in cases where a woman’s health is at risk. When the IPSO/MRBI poll statistics are examined, they make for interesting reading, when respondents were asked if abortion should be allowed where a woman is threatening suicide 52 per cent said Yes, 29 per cent said No and 19 per cent had no opinion.
In order to invoke the provisions under article 27 of the constitution, a minimum of thirty senators and fifty-five TD’s must petition the President. This may not seem as unlikely now, as it did some weeks ago! The next two weeks will prove very interesting in the Houses of the Oireachtas, as the chase to garner support and sufficient numbers across the political spectrum intensifies.
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