The 8th Amendment and its future in the Constitution has been the most divisive political issue in Ireland for years. While there now appears to be a broad consensus across political parties that change is needed, the exact nature of that change is decidedly less clear. The Citizen’s Assembly was established in the aftermath of the general election in 2016 by the Fine Gael-Independent Government to consider exactly what should Ireland’s approach to abortion should be. On the basis of this a Dáil committee would be established to consider those recommendations.
On April 23rd 2017 the Assembly recommended that Ireland should adopt a significantly more liberal regime than is currently in place. They recommended that abortions should be lawful if:
- There is a risk to the life of the woman
- There is a risk to the health of the woman
- There is a serious risk to the mental health of the woman
- The pregnancy is as a result of rape
- If the child has a fatal foetal abnormality
- For socio-economic reasons
The Dáil has established a cross party committee to consider these recommendations and issue a report to the Dáil. They start the bulk of their work from September onwards. Now that we know what the Assembly has recommended, where do each of Ireland’s political parties and their representative groups in UCD stand on the issue?
Fine Gael have simply stated that they would allow for a free vote, or a vote of conscience for the members in the Dáil with regards to the 8th amendment. Neither they nor any of their TD’s sent submissions to the Citizen’s Assembly. No formal party stance beyond that currently exists on the issue.
Leader/Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said “I don’t agree with abortion on request but I also am very sure the 8th Amendment is too restrictive” during the leadership race, and has said a referendum is to be held on the issue.
In a comment to the Tribune Young Fine Gael said “Young Fine Gael recognises that the issue of the 8th amendment is an important issue of conscience; one on which our members have a variety of very strong views across both sides of the debate. It is right that everyone comes to their own conclusion on this sensitive issue and so the Young Fine Gael organisation as a whole will not be adopting an official position in the event of a referendum.”
Fianna Fáil have simply stated that they would allow for a free vote, or a vote of conscience for the members in the Dáil with regards to the 8th amendment. Billy Kelleher TD submitted to the Citizen’s Assembly on behalf of the party. Here he states that “Our party believes that it is not a simple question of deleting Article 43.3.3[The 8th amendment]. This would require the public trusting the Oireachtas to introduce legislation and trying to cover certain views and beliefs on this particular issue.”
Ogra Fianna Fáil have stated that “The option to terminate pregnancies in the case of fatal foetal abnormalities, which have been diagnosed by the relevant medical experts, should be available.” They also support the holding of a referendum to determine whether to retain, repeal or amend the 8th amendment.
Sinn Fein would enact legislation permitting access to abortions in cases involving
- Fatal foetal abnormalities.
Sinn Fein Republican Youth have said that they “support women having full bodily autonomy within this country.” Sinn Féin are have also said that their TD’s will be under the party whip while sitting on the Dáil committee to consider the recommendations of the Citizen’s Assembly. They are the only party to have taken this step.
The Labour party have stated that they support the Repeal of the 8th Amendment and would legislate for access to abortions in cases where:
- There exist a fatal foetal abnormalities
- real and substantial risk to the health of the woman
- Where rape, incest or serious sexual assault has created a risk to the physical or mental health of the woman
Labour Youth said in a statement to the Tribune that they do not support the party stance per say, but “understand that the party’s stance on abortion is a realistic step that Labour would take to legislate on the issue.” They noted that the Labour party policy on abortion is rather vague and is left open to interpretation and would view it as a good first step from which they can build on.
The Social Democrats told the Tribune that they are prioritising repeal as until the 8th is repealed no legislation can properly implemented. The party recently joined the Coalition to Repeal the 8th Amendment and have 2 elected representatives on that coalition. Furthermore, they stated that the party is currently undergoing a member’s consultation to establish what the legislative position would be and are hoping to build on that shortly.
The UCD Social Democrats said that as they are not a separate entity but rather another branch of the Social Democrat party, there position is that of the overall party.
Aaron Bowman – Politics Editor