Taoiseach: Cabinet ministers allowed to 'dissent' on abortion referendum

By Daniel McConnell, Irish Examiner

Cabinet ministers will be allowed to "dissent" from supporting the upcoming referendum on abortion, the Taoiseach has said.

Leo Varadkar said that he expects ministers to collectively agree a position on the referendum and on what regime would exist should the Eighth Amendment be repealed.

He said the referendum will be held in May or June and also said the Government intends publishing the “general scheme of legislation” as to what health laws would exist in the absence of the Eighth Amendment.

However, Mr Varadkar said ministers will be free to dissent from supporting the option of repealing the controversial 1983 amendment, which recognises the equal right to life of the mother and the unborn child.

A free vote has been promised in Fine Gael and Mr Varadkar has said ministers will not be barred from following their conscience on the highly divisive matter once the referendum is called.

“In terms of Cabinet, like I said, we need to have a discussion at Cabinet. What I would anticipate is Cabinet acting collectively, as it always does. So if we put a procedure or proposition to the Dáíl and Seanad, that will be a collective decision of the Cabinet,” he said.

“That is not to say that people couldn’t dissent from that. I’m not sure if that makes any sense! But Cabinet can only operate collectively. Even in the old days when there were votes at Cabinet, and that probably hasn’t happened for decades – you could have eight people voting one way, two people voting the other – but they would all agree that this was the collective decision, of the Cabinet.

"That wouldn’t prevent them from dissenting to it,” Mr Varadkar told political correspondents.

Mr Varadkar said there are to be two different bills arising out of the Oireachtas committee on the Eighth Amendment - one referendum bill, and then a separate bill detailing the health side of things, legislating for any new policy.

Mr Varadkar said: "Two things are required. One referendum bill, to allow for a referendum, and that would have to be in January or February - to make the May/June deadline, that would be required in January or February.

"We don’t have to, but I think it would be prudent to produce a general scheme of legislation that would then follow from a Yes vote in a referendum, just as was the case in Marriage Equality and Divorce, and other referendums where people want to know what the intention is from government and from legislators after an amendment is made to the Constitution.

“So it is the intention – I think that would be prudent, and common sense – to produce the general scheme of any legislation before the people are asked to vote on the amendment, even though it’s not necessary. It’s prudent and wise to do that," he said.


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