Government expects Eighth Amendment referendum by end of May

Ruth Coppinger has warned against any delay to the timeline

Government expects Eighth Amendment referendum by end of May

Health Minister Simon Harris at the publication of a Report on the Public Consultation for a proposed Human Tissue Bill in the Organ Donation and Transplant Ireland in Dublin | Image: Sam Boal/

The Taoiseach has said he is confident a referendum on the Eighth Amendment can be held by the end of May.

The Cabinet this morning approved a draft bill which will form the basis for the referendum.

The draft bill sets out the question which may be asked to voters.

It asks people if they support repealing the 8th amendment and allowing the government to legislate for abortion.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar says they'll sign off on that in two weeks:

"The intention is to publish the bill in the first week of March but we need to get some further legal advice on the precise wording, which we are confident is OK but we need to get some further advice on and also the place in the Constitution where it should rest," he said.

"But we would anticipate having that legislation ready in the first week of March." 


The Health Minister Simon Harris will now finalise the bill – with the Government expected to give its final approval to in two weeks time.

The exact date for the referendum will be set following a vote in both houses of the Oireachtas – however both Minister Harris and the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar this afternoon voiced their confidence that the end of May timeline can be met.

The referendum will propose that Eighth Amendment be repealed – with a clause inserted allowing the Oireachtas to bring forward legislation providing for abortion under certain circumstances.


Minister Harris said that the Department of Health is currently drafting the legislation that will be brought forward should the Eight Amendment be repealed.

He said it will be based on the recommendations made by the Joint Committee on the Eighth Amendment – which called for abortion without restriction up to and including the 12th week of pregnancy, and allowed provisions for fatal foetal abnormality, rape, incest and risks to the mother's health.

The government has pledged to publish a policy paper outlining the legislation in two weeks time.

Lawmakers are also waiting on a Supreme Court ruling this week to know if they can go ahead with the referendum as planned. 

Speaking the Dáil this afternoon, Solidarity TD Ruth Coppinger took issue with the length of time it has taken to draft the bill - and warned that there can't be any delay in the calling of a referendum:

"Why will that take two weeks from today?" she asked.

"You have known about the Citizens Assembly recommendations since last April and have had the chance to draft up many possible bills.

"The danger is that if we wait we will not be able to meet the May deadline that is the optimal time for young people and students most affected by this to vote."

Linda Kavanagh, spokesperson for the Pro-Choice campaign welcomed the determination to have a May referendum and said it is vital the timeline is met.

"It is vital that everyone in this country gets to have a say in this and a May referendum will ensure that students who are particularly affected by our aboriton laws will be able to have their say," she said.

Spokesperson for the Pro-Life campaign, Cora Sherlock, is against the government's proposals:

"It is time for the Government to be honest about their proposal and stop trying to present it as something progressive and enlightened when in reality what they are proposing is something that would lead to abortion on demand," she said.

"This is about ending lives and not saving them."