The Cabinet has agreed to hold a referendum on the repeal of the eighth amendment, with the date likely to be held in late May.
Minister for Health, Simon Harris, has agreed to work on legislation for unrestricted abortion up to 12 weeks should the referendum pass. According to the Journal, following the four hour discussion, Harris said: “A date for the referendum can only formally be set by my colleague the Minister for Housing and Local Government once the Oireachtas has passed the Referendum Bill.” Harris later stated that he hoped the Bill will be passed by the end of March.
Speaking following the Cabinet meeting, Taoiseach Leo Varadker said: “We have abortion in Ireland but it is unsafe, unregulated and unlawful, and in my opinion we cannot export our problems and import our solutions.”
The announcement follows a statement by Varadker on Saturday when he publicly declared that he will be “campaigning for the liberalisation” of Ireland’s current abortion laws in the run up to the referendum.
Whilst speaking on BBC’s Today programme last Saturday Varadkar said that the eighth amendment is “too restrictive” and that he supports a liberalising of Irelands abortion laws.
When asked directly if he will campaign in favour of repealing the Eighth Amendment and to change Ireland’s existing laws regarding abortion, the Taoiseach responded by saying“I’ll be campaigning for them to be changed and to be liberalised, yes”.
This is a change from Varadkers opinion back in 2014, when the Irish Independent quotes Varadkar as being “pro-life”. The then Minister for Health Varadker said: “I consider myself to be pro-life in that I accept the unborn child is a human life with rights.”
The decision to hold the referendum in May follows the release of a letter sent from the President of the Union of Students Ireland (USI), Michael Kerrigan to the Taoiseach. In the letter, Kerrigan urged the Taoiseach to consider holding a referendum before the end of May. Kerrigan stated that in choosing to hold the referendum around this time, the government would allow for the thousands of students sitting state exams, those travelling on J1 visas and young people on work placement throughout the summer to cast their vote. Kerrigan said: “It is imperative that young people and students are given the opportunity to vote on the eighth amendment.”
The letter also sees Kerrigan state the importance of encouraging active citizenship amongst the youth in Ireland, something he thinks which the referendum could assist in doing. “We should not create barriers in young people’s role in being active citizens in this country,” Kerrigan said.