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The future of Ireland’s abortion laws should be dealt with by the current Oireachtas, Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Paschal Donohoe has said. Speaking in the aftermath of the Citizens’ Assembly vote recommending regulations be significantly liberalised, Mr Donohoe said: “This matter should be dealt with by this Oireachtas.”
There has been predictably mixed reaction to the results which will form the basis of a report to be sent to the Oireachtas by assembly chair Mrs Justice Mary Laffoy in June.
This in turn will be considered by a special committee before it puts its recommendations before Government.
The matter is likely to prove contentious, with some political parties gifting TDs a free vote.
“The Citizens’ Assembly have highlighted the complexity of this issue and all of the challenges that are there in relation to dealing with what is a very, very sensitive matter,” Mr Donohoe said on Monday.
“I can’t at this point give an indication as to what a legislative timeline could be for the simple reason that the Oireachtas committee now has to form, now has to consider this matter, which they will do.”
Fianna Fáil health spokesman Billy Kelleher told RTÉ a referendum on abortion would be likely within the lifetime of the current Dáil, probably next year, if the supply and confidence agreement between his party and Fine Gael remains intact.
Both parties have said their TDs will have a free vote on the matter. However, they are likely to come under intense pressure as the Oireachtas deals with the issue, or during a general election campaign if one materialises ahead of a referendum.
Conversely, Sinn Féin has ordered its elected members to fall in line. A spokesman said all are expected to vote with the party position which favours repealing the Eighth Amendment and enacting legislation covering incidents of rape, incest, fatal foetal abnormality and mental health.
The spokesman said the party would expect TD Peadar Tóibín to stand with its other members. Mr Tóibín had previously been disciplined for failing to vote with his party in favour of proposed X case legislation in 2012.
Speaking on the issue of fatal foetal abnormality ahead of the party’s ardfheis in 2015, he told The Irish Times he would object to it because children with such a diagnosis “should have an equal right to life as everyone else”.
Independent TD Mattie McGrath said he was dismayed but not surprised by the outcome of the Citizens’ Assembly vote and questioned its validity given that 11 counties were not represented.
He said a referendum is now “a foregone conclusion” as both Leo Varadkar and Simon Coveney had indicated there would be one.
“It is up to the people to get the facts,” he said.
Labour TD Jan O’Sullivan welcomed the outcome of the assembly and said there was clear feeling the issue should not be dealt with by the Constitution.
Fine Gael Senator Jerry Buttimer told RTÉ many issues must be addressed before a referendum could be held, adding there was a need to allow the Oireachtas committee seek more information and discuss the issue “away from the extremists on both sides of the debate”.