Thirty-fourth Amendment of the Constitution Bill 2014: First Stage


Go gceadófar go dtabharfar isteach Bille dá ngairtear Acht chun an Bunreacht a leasú.

I move:

That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to amend the Constitution.

This Bill will have the effect of allowing a referendum to repeal the eighth amendment to Article 40.3.3° of the Constitution, which is the constitutional ban on abortion. It would then allow the Government to legislate for abortion in Ireland.

There are significantly pressing issues facing ordinary people in this country such as the ongoing austerity onslaught, the housing crisis, water charges and so forth. The continued existence of the eighth amendment of the Constitution, however, is a pressing issue for women in this country. It is a life-and-death issue for many of them, as we saw over the summer with the case of Ms Y. Women who have restrictions on their ability to travel abroad for an abortion include migrant women - migrants make up 24% of my constituency - and working class women who do not have the money or the means to travel due to the onslaught of austerity. These are the people who pay most for the ongoing hypocrisy of the majority of parties in this Chamber who have seen fit to ignore their reality for the past 31 years. These women cannot wait any longer to have this referendum.

On the last day of the Dáil before the summer recess in July, the Tánaiste, when asked, said the Government would not revisit this issue and that the people had spoken. What an insult. My generation of women, those of child-bearing age most affected by the eighth amendment, never got an opportunity to speak on it when it was originally passed. Their lives are dictated by a provision on which they had no say. In the Dáil recently, the Minister for Health, Deputy Leo Varadkar, said the church should not be brought into this as it is about what is right. It was the Catholic Church and a range of Catholic groups which lobbied and pressed for this amendment in 1983. No other religion, Protestant or otherwise, supported it. It is, therefore, a sectarian amendment which has no place in the Constitution.

The past is a different country. The Catholic Church does not now enjoy the support it once did. However, the political establishment still seems to be determined to give it inordinate power and influence over health, education and other spheres of people’s lives, particularly women’s. The mantra is we will not revisit this as there is not an appetite to do so. There may be no appetite on the part of Fine Gael for political expediency but there is certainly an appetite among ordinary people to have a referendum to repeal the eighth amendment. The Socialist Party is well aware of this from its work on street stalls and in conversations with people. ROSA, the organisation for Reproductive rights, against Oppression, Sexism and Austerity, has the same experience.

An opinion poll at the weekend confirmed this even more. Of those polled, only 19% oppose the idea of a referendum in the lifetime of this Government. The concept of a referendum in the next year is supported by 59% of those polled with 72% supporting abortion where a mother’s life is at risk, 69% supporting it in the case of rape and 68% in the case of a threat to the long-term health of a woman. People on the ground have gone way beyond the political establishment.

While the Government may not have an appetite to change the law, perhaps it should take a lesson from Spain. In the past few weeks, the Spanish Government had to withdraw in a humiliating fashion its attempts and proposals to curb abortion when tens of thousands took to the streets in 20 cities around Spain. This Saturday, there will also be a march for choice in Dublin - yet another one - because men and women have had to take to the streets to get the Government and the establishment to listen. I hope this march will be very large.

Will the Labour Party continue a legacy and culture of a Catholic Church influenced State which allowed the Magdalen laundries, the mother and baby homes and symphysiotomy? Will it stop controlling women’s bodies and lives and allow women their health care and their rights?

We have designed and published a simple Bill. We call on the Labour Party in particular, whose members say they support the repeal of the eighth amendment, to accept the Bill, to introduce it and to allow the Second Stage debate on the issue to proceed in Government time. A referendum could be held in the spring, along with other referenda such as the one on marriage equality. There is no need to bring people out on several occasions. Let the people have their say on the issue, as it makes sense, is practical and women cannot wait.

Is the Bill opposed?

Cuireadh agus aontaíodh an cheist.
Question put and agreed to.

I declare the motion for leave to introduce the Bill agreed. Since this is a Private Members' Bill, Second Stage must, under Standing Orders, be taken in Private Members' time.

Tairgim: "Go dtógfar an Bille in am Comhaltaí Príobháideacha."

I move: "That the Bill be taken in Private Members' time."

Cuireadh agus aontaíodh an cheist.
Question put and agreed to.