Ireland's Equality Minister calls for abortion referendum to be held 'as early as possible'

Ireland's Equality Minister calls for abortion referendum to be held 'as early as possible'

Ireland's second most senior politician has called on the Irish Government to hold a referendum on abortion in Ireland 'as early as possible.' 

Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality Frances Fitzgerald made the statement while she chaired Leaders' Questions on May 4, while Taoiseach Enda Kenny was in Montréal meeting his Canadian counterpart, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Minister Fitzgerald was responding to a question from Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald who accused the Government of using the Citizen's Assembly on the eighth amendment as an attempt to "shirk its responsibility."

In a Citizen's Assembly vote on Saturday, April 22, a majority of 51 votes to 38 votes, recommended by ballot that the eighth amendment should be replaced with a constitutional provision that explicitly authorises the Oireachtas to legislate to address termination of pregnancy, any rights of the unborn, and any rights of the woman.

"By establishing the Citizens’ Assembly, the Government attempted to shirk its responsibility to address this most important matter.

Deputy Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said the eighth amendment was a "relic" of the past, and must be "replaced with compassion. (Picture: Leah Farrell/

"It was an attempt to block the Dáil from dealing with the eighth amendment and to stifle the obvious demand for a referendum as soon as possible," Ms McDonald said.

"We need to debate the issues and put the issue of the eighth amendment to the people in a referendum."

Mary Lou McDonald also said that the eighth amendment is a "relic of the past" and must instead be "replaced with compassion."

"Up to 10 women and girls leave this State every day to avail of terminations abroad.

"These are not just women on a spreadsheet or in a news report.

"They are our sisters, our mothers and our friends. We cannot continue to fail them.

"The eighth amendment is a relic of the past," she added. "It has to go and be replaced with compassion."

Ms McDonald also said the abortion issue had been "marked by the politics of delay" and Ireland has had an "alphabet soup of tragedy and maltreatment of women [...] yet the political system stood still and looked the other way."

Minister Fitzgerald said the issue of an abortion referendum is "delicate" but due to Ireland's "bad history" with the reproductive rights of women, it is in the interests of Irish women that Ireland moves forward.

"This is a delicate and difficult issue for every individual and society as to what exactly the legislative framework ought to be.

"It is in Irish women's interests that we move forward with this issue and consider the legislative approach we want to take," she said. "We have a bad history when it comes to women's reproductive rights.

"Quite clearly, we are at a point where further and detailed discussion is needed. As I said, no country in the world finds it easy to decide on the exact parameters around this issue or how it should be approached."

But Minister Fitzgerald said the Government had decided that an all party committee would be established, and then the Dáil would make a decision.

"I expect there will be a referendum after that," she said. "My own belief, as I have often stated, is that the Constitution is not the place to deal with these complex issues. I believe a referendum should be held as early as possible."

Speaking for the London Irish Abortion Rights Campaign, Cara Sanquest welcomed Minister Fitzgerald's comments.

"Frances Fitzgerald is entirely right to say that the Constitution is not the place to deal with complex issues like reproductive rights," she said.

"A referendum on repealing the Eighth Amendment is already long overdue. An entire generation of Irish women have never had a chance to vote on a issue that directly impacts their lives.

"It's time for the Government to step up and give the electorate a say," Ms Sanquest said. "We join with our friends at the Coalition to Repeal the Eighth in calling for a referendum to be held in February of next year."