Ministers told they will need to act fast to hold abortion referendum in May

Health Minister Simon Harris has outlined the dates the Government needs to stick to in early 2018

Ministers told they will need to act fast to hold abortion referendum in May

Simon Harris. Photo: Eamonn Farrell/

The Cabinet has been warned of the strict timeline they will need to stick to to have a referendum on abortion in May or June.

The Health Minister briefed his ministerial colleagues this morning.

Ministers were told this morning they will have to act fast in the new year to get a referendum in May.

Legislation would need to be published just days after the Dáil returns from its Christmas recess.

Their combined position on the abortion issue is not yet clear, and they will have to decide that early in January.

The Taoiseach suggested they could agree on bringing a referendum forward, but then have the option to vote against proposed new laws in the Dáil.

Leo Varadkar observed: "If we put a procedure or proposition to the Dáil and Seanad, that would be a collective decision of the Cabinet.

"But that is not to say that people couldn't dissent from that."

Fianna Fáil's Willie O'Dea was skeptical of how that will work, noting: "Does it mean that people will come out of the Cabinet room behind a certain policy line, and then be able to go into the Dáil and vote against that particular policy line?"

The Taoiseach has not revealed his personal position on abortion, and neither has Fianna Fáil leader Micheal Martin.

There was a split among Deputy Martin's TDs and Senators sent to face the media today.

Willie O'Dea saying he has not decided, while Senator Catherine Ardagh is in favour of the abortion committee proposals.

TD Thomas Byrne, however, is not in favour of the proposals, saying: "I am pro-life - I personally won't be supporting in a vote a proposal to repeal the 8th.

"However, I think a referendum has to happen. I think the people deserve to have their say, and I think we all need to respect other people's points-of-view."

This all comes ahead of the Oireachtas Committee on the 8th amendment issuing its final report tomorrow