Business of Joint Committee

I suggest we go straight into public session because nothing can be lost in translation, and we will continue in public session unless the necessity arises to go into private session for any particular reason. The draft minutes of the meetings of 22 and 23 November have been circulated. Are they agreed? Agreed. Are there any matters arising? No.

We have received six items of correspondence, all of which are noted. As the correspondence from Both Lives Matter only arrived this morning, we will come back to it next week as it contains the methodology used to back up its claim of lives saved by the unavailability of abortion in the North of Ireland. The follow-up from Leah Hoctor about the calculation of gestation limits can be considered in the context of our report. The other items of correspondence are listed.

Today we will conclude module 2 and we will finish our public meetings on module 3 tomorrow evening. We must now start to complete the decision-making process that will allow us to report to the Oireachtas by 20 December, which is the three-month deadline imposed on us by the Houses of the Oireachtas. I suggest, therefore, that we commence the process next week as to when we can make decisions on modules 1 and 2, and the following week, on Wednesday, 13 December, we will consider the draft report which arises from the decisions made by the committee. I think it unavoidable and necessary that we start the process next week, and early in the week if we have to, as otherwise we will be under pressure to meet the deadline and nobody wants that coming up to Christmas. I have asked the secretariat to prepare a roadmap for modules 1 and 2. The one for module 1 was circulated some weeks ago.

We can circulate that today and then discuss it at the commencement of our public business tomorrow. I just wanted to give people a bit of notice of that in advance.

The clerk will have a briefing note highlighting the main issues we discussed with our experts in respect of each of the 13 reasons recommended by the Citizens' Assembly. That note should assist members and it should be circulated by Friday lunchtime. We will park that issue for now if that is okay. Senator Buttimer has indicated.

I thank the Cathaoirleach for her comments. I also ask her to indicate what she means by next week in terms of the process involved. As I mentioned to her, to the clerk and to other members, I will be away next week speaking at an LGBT conference in the USA. Could I suggest that we defer any votes until the week after? I apologise but this is longstanding commitment. I hope that the committee might facilitate my request to have the votes, if any, taken in a block on Tuesday or Wednesday of the following week. I appreciate from where the Cathaoirleach is coming on this but, to be fair to me, as a member, we were never given a deadline or a date for votes. I understand that we have a pressing need to get things done by 20 December but I hope that we could defer the vote. I do not think that I am the only person who will be missing next week either. I would appreciate it if I could be facilitated.

I have a separate question on the method of voting. Was it originally agreed that a vote would be taken at the end of each module? I am not challenging this, it is just that I want to understand the process.

My understanding of what was agreed, and I ask that someone correct me if they think me inaccurate on this, is that as we went along we, as a committee, would decide when it suited us to vote. A modular approach could obviously have been open to votes after each module, but my understanding is that that was to be agreed as we went along. Deputy Bríd Smith was not on the committee at the time so I understand why she is asking the question. My understanding is that this matter is really up to the committee. We made the decision to vote but left it open to movement, depending on circumstances. There was some concession on the last vote, for example, but I do not need to go into that because Deputy Bríd Smith watched it and she knows what I mean.

If there are members who cannot be here to vote next week, would it not be better to vote on the substantive question, namely, whether to have a referendum to repeal the eighth amendment, before next week?

That is one option. I will just go to the others who have indicated. Has the Deputy finished speaking?

Yes. I am proposing that option.

We finish module 2 today and will finish module 3 tomorrow. I understand that a number of members, not just Senator Buttimer, will be unavailable next week due to longstanding commitments. In order to be fair to every member of the committee, we should try to have full attendance before any votes are taken. I am not suggesting this to facilitate anyone in particular. At this stage, I have more than two folders of information relating to module 2 so I think that it would be prudent that we have an opportunity next week to debate this information. We need to look at every recommendation from the Citizens' Assembly. We also need to examine the information we have received and tie it up with those recommendations. It will probably take two or possibly three days next week to digest all of this information and establish what exactly it means for each particular recommendation. If we could do this next week, that would clear the way for having a series of votes on Tuesday week so as to finalise what the committee is recommending. We will then be looking at a draft report immediately after that. From my point of view, I would certainly like some conversation next week regarding the information we have received and how it affects the recommendations, one way or the other.

Deputy Bríd Smith proposed voting before next week but that would mean doing so tomorrow.

I propose voting on just one issue, namely, whether to hold a referendum on repeal.

I have the floor. Voting tomorrow would not give us enough time to go over all of our material and consider the issues properly. Given the seriousness of what we are voting on, I would certainly be in favour of having as full an attendance as possible for any vote. I support Deputy O'Brien in taking next week to discuss everything we have learned further and then to prepare for voting the week after.

What we do on module 1 will, or potentially could, determine the shape of module 2. It is not ideal that we push this because we could then use a lot of time inappropriately next week. That is a concern for me. Having said that, I acknowledge that we should be aspiring to full attendance when we make decisions.

I will just interject to say that because Wednesday is our day to meet, we should stick to it as the voting day. Having a vote on Tuesday or Thursday would be unfair to members who are making any plans. As a rule, we should try to have voting on the Wednesday. I apologise to Deputy Catherine Murphy for cutting across her.

My other point concerns what the report and the methodology for the report will look like. The Chairman has talked about a roadmap but we might have to put some work into what such a roadmap would look like.

The Deputy is absolutely right.

We could end up with quite a short, effective report.

That is the point.

We are not trying to write the legislation here. We may focus on big themes rather than very detailed specifics. We need to have an idea of what we are going into here because we could then use our time much more effectively. I would like to hear the committee's thinking as to the kind of report we will produce.

I do not think that we would be doing our job well if we produced volumes of a report to give to the Oireachtas.

I do not think that would be a very professional thing to do and, as far as I am concerned, it would not make any sense. That is, however, a decision for the committee.

I suppose somebody should say that it is good that we are all back here and that we did not have to terminate our activities. I think all of us around the table feel that. I support what has been said about having as full an attendance as possible and, preferably, a full attendance for votes because that is a basic principle for reaching consensus. I understand Deputy Bríd Smith's suggestion that we vote this week and I think that there is some logic to it. I have a concern about voting tomorrow, however, because we have also moved the time from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. Some of us would certainly have a difficulty with being here right until the end of the meeting tomorrow.

The reason for that change is that voting in the Dail tomorrow will be later than usual.

I understand the reason but I, for example, have a selection convention tomorrow night which was organised when we thought that we might have to rush matters. Others will have also have reasons why they cannot suddenly change something that was an hour later than-----

I think there is a consensus on that. Deputy Jan O'Sullivan is reiterating the point I made earlier that Wednesday afternoon is the time for us to be voting. I do not know if there is any disagreement on that.

Can I have some clarity on the roadmap? Are we getting a roadmap tomorrow?

Yes. As I mentioned, the roadmap will outline the process. We touched on this after module 1 so we will be expanding on that. I would like to hold off on the conversation on that because we obviously still have witnesses to come in today. We can chat about the roadmap tomorrow.

When the Citizens' Assembly was sitting, it left all of its votes to the very end and I suggest that we do the same. We have already had a vote and there was a lot of controversy about it. The Citizens' Assembly is the main reason we are here so I think we should have all of the votes at the very end.

I agree with that and I think it is also in line with Deputy O'Brien's proposal that we vote the week after next so that we can spend time next week discussing the totality of what we have learned recently. I also agree that our report should be short and to the point and should provide a clear indication of what the committee is recommending to Government without getting into nitty-gritty detail. That is for the Government to do.

Thank you Deputy. I call on Deputy McGrath.

I too think all the voting should be held at the end. I think the vote well ahead of time sent a bad signal. I also disagree with the meetings being held at 3 p.m. on a Thursday because some of us from the country try to get out of the city ahead of traffic.

We are all agreed on that Deputy. Is that all you want to say?

At the moment, yes.

I call on Deputy O'Brien.

I want to clarify what I was suggesting. We still have to make a decision on module 1. We did take one vote which was not to retain it in full. However, we were given six possible options and I would like an opportunity next week to discuss those options and then discuss the options and modules.

Absolutely, is the Deputy finished?

What I suggest is that the votes would take place on Wednesday, 13 December.

Okay, then the important point is that we need some legal advice as well. Our legal advisers will need to brief us. We will arrange that for next Wednesday.

In general, I would agree on that. Having sat for so long and so often trying to assimilate all the information that has been put before us I think we should complete everything, have a review of what exactly has come to our attention and then decide on what we are going to do next. The voting comes at the very end.

My only concern, and the secretariat's, is that we would have enough time and that there would not be any difficulties in the last week that would push us into being here half the night under pressure. However, as long as we agree that we are going to have a reasonably short comprehensive report, there is a consensus.

We have to be careful. If we are serious about the business that we are doing we have to remain serious right to the very end. We have to give it the time and energy that is necessary. We have to be realistic in what we have been doing and give the public some indication as to how they are going to come to a judgment, which is what is going to happen in any event when we have finished.

Thank you Deputy Durkan, I agree with you. I call on Deputy Smith.

To clarify, and this is as much for people watching and those in the Gallery as it is for myself. What we are saying now is that we would not be voting until 13 December, then the report would be drafted and we would sign off on it on 20 December. Is that the case? That is pushing it right to the very limit. If we take the votes on 13 December, then we cannot complete the report until after that. Obviously, the report depends on the outcome of how we vote.

We can complete it by the Thursday I am sure.

By 14 December possibly. Can I just be clear that I agree with a short succinct but comprehensive report that will include all of the recommendations of the Citizens' Assembly, and that there will be votes on all of that and nothing will be left out.

Yes, we will have to vote. We will be pre-emptive if we get into a discussion on that now because we have parked that until tomorrow. We will be circulating a document that will structure that. If it is okay, we will come back to that tomorrow.

Okay, that is fine.

It has to cover the Citizens' Assembly's points. That has to be categorically clear. The report has to be read in conjunction with the debates.

The report will be ready by 14 December then after we vote on 13 December. I know we are going to discuss that tomorrow.

We will have to see how we go. However, the debates are part of the report. Realistically, we have to turn it around as quickly as we can within the confines. We have to accommodate colleagues as well as hear from all the witnesses and do our work as comprehensively as we can. Is everyone agreed on the approach? Agreed.

Sitting suspended at 1.54 p.m. and resumed at 1.56 p.m.