Government planning 8th Amendment referendum for next May or June

The Taoiseach has announced plans for seven referendums over the next two years

Government planning 8th Amendment referendum for next May or June

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar at the final press conference on Day two of the Fine Gael Autumn Think-In in Tipperary, 15-09-2017. image: Eamonn Farrell/RollingNews

Updated 22.05

The Taoiseach has confirmed an abortion referendum on the 8th Amendment to the Constitution will take place in May or June next year.

The 8th Amendment states the right to life of the mother and the unborn child are equal.

The issue is currently being considered by an Oireachtas Committee in the wake of the Citizens' Assembly suggestions earlier this year, with the committee to advise the Government on potential next steps.

The assembly voted to recommend access to abortion without restriction up to 12 weeks.

Although several referendums will be held over the next two years, the vote on abortion laws will be stand-alone.

The Abortion Rights Campaign cautiously welcomed the news, but added they reserved judgement "until we see the wording of the referendum".

Seven referendums

Leo Varadkar, meanwhile, told the Dáil of Government plans for a total of seven referendums between now and the summer of 2019.

However, the Government is being warned that attempting to hold too many polls over the next two years will see important issues overshadowed.

In October 2018, three issues will be addressed on the day scheduled for the presidential election - even if there isn’t a presidential contest.

The votes will deal with blasphemy, women in the home, and the possibility of plebiscites on directly elected mayors.

On the day as the 2019 local elections, it is also planned to ask voters about liberalising Ireland's divorce laws, extending the franchise to citizens abroad to vote in presidential elections and reducing the voting age to 16.

The announcements came after the Taoiseach briefed Cabinet this morning on the possibility of holding polls on a range of issue between now and early 2019.

On Newstalk Breakfast this morning, DCU's political science lecturer Eoin O'Malley warned that the public’s attention can only be pulled in so many directions:

“You can’t really spend that much time thinking about anything if you are trying to discuss ten issues,” he said.

“Given that the abortion one is going to take up an awful lot of energy and attention, it would mean that anything else that happens around the abortion one - and possibly even on the same day - is not going to get any attention and won’t be considered in the way that you might want to consider a change to the constitution.”

Cost to the Exchequer

Referendums can extremely expensive for the Exchequer – with figures suggesting the first Lisbon Treaty vote cost €22.2m and the marriage referendum coming in at €15m.

The State has spent over €133m on referendums since 2000.

Holding votes on the same day as presidential & local elections could help keep costs down.

Professor O'Malley, however, warned the government would be taking a gamble by grouping too many issues together:

“Ten seems like a number that the government might be looking at to be activist and trying to be seen to do things,” he said.

“But you would want to be careful because, you know, [if] you introduce ten you are going to lose a few of them.”

An abortion referendum in early 2018 is dependent on the cross-party Oireachtas Committee completing its consideration of the issue by Christmas.

Members of the committee have raised concern that this may not be possible, given the complexity of the issues involved.