Cabinet members will be able to "campaign freely" on abortion referendum - Varadkar

The health minister has presented plans for a vote and the new laws that could come in

Cabinet members will be able to "campaign freely" on abortion referendum - Varadkar

Simon Harris & Leo Varadkar. Photograph: Leah Farrell/RollingNews.ie

The Taoiseach Leo Varadkar says he will not reveal his position on abortion until he knows what question will be put to people in a referendum.

Mr Varadkar says there is strong agreement at Cabinet that a vote on repealing the 8th amendment take place this year.

He will reveal his views in the coming weeks and says he will campaign on the issue.

He added that Cabinet members will be free to vote and campaign whatever way they see fit.

"This is a private and personal issue and I want to respect everyone's views on it - both within the Cabinet and within the party.

"It is my strong view, and I believe there is a very strong consensus around the Cabinet table, that this question should be put to the people this year.

"But people will be able to campaign freely in accordance with their conscience - or not campaign at all, if that is their preference - and that will apply to Cabinet members as well as TDs and Senators".

The Cabinet has used its first meeting of the new year to discuss the way forward for an abortion referendum.

Minister Harris brought a memo to Cabinet on Wednesday morning outlining the way forward on a potential referendum.

They would have to to approve a referendum bill by the end of the month, then have it pass through the Oireachtas by late March or early April to have a May or June vote.

May 25th or June 1st are seen as likely polling days.

Health Minister Simon Harris believes it will likely be a Yes/No question put to the people on repealing the 8th, but that people will need to be clear on what new laws would be.

"If the Government does decide to have a referendum, I think it would important that my department would publish the general scheme, the draft legislation, of what would replace the 8th amendment should the people make the decision".

"I support repeal"

Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan says he supports repealing the 8th amendment.

"I support repeal, I don't believe this is an issue that should be in our constitution.

"I want to acknowledge that this has been a very challenging issue, a very sensitive issue over the past 35 years.

"I believe it's important now in the context of the commitment given in the Progamme for Partnership Government that we move on towards the next stage".

So far, seven ministers have come out in favour of the recommendations of the Oireachtas committee on the 8th amendment.

Other members of the Dáil, like Fianna Fáil's Willie O'Dea, are holding fire until a debate in the chamber next week.

"My position is that I don't have any difficulty with the matter going to a referendum - the people should be given the opportunity to vote on it.

"As regards the main issue itself, well I will be making my position clear in the Dáil next week".

Many TDs are gauging the mood among their constituents on the contentious issue before making their positions clear.

Speaking earlier ahead of the meeting, Minister Harris said the discussion is just the beginning.

"Next week, the Dáil will debate the Oireachtas committee's report for at least three days. The Seanad will also debate it.

"My own parliamentary party will also meet next week in advance of the Dáil coming back. We're definitely entering an intense phase of discussions.

"I'd like to see the people of this country be given an opportunity to have a vote on this important issue, and I support the committee's recommendations.

"But ultimately the Government will have to make a number of key decisions over the next number of weeks if it is to facilitate a referendum in May or June of this year."