Simon Harris wants a referendum on repealing the 8th

TDs are debating a bill put forward by Mick Wallace to allow for terminations in the case of fatal foetal abnormalities

Simon Harris wants a referendum on repealing the 8th

Minister for Health, Simon Harris

The Minister for Health has said he wants a referendum on repealing the 8th amendment.

Simon Harris was speaking in the Dáil on a bill put forward by Independent TD Mick Wallace to allow for terminations in the case of fatal foetal abnormalities.

However, he stated that he had to oppose the legislation put forward by the Independent TD and encouraged others to do the same.

"Although it is well intended, it is unconstitutional, and I cannot support the Bill at this time," said Harris.

The Health Minister also said that while he was not against the purpose of the Bill, he was doing so because the Attorney General advised that it was unconstitutional.

In his speech he acknowledged the difficult situation pregnant women find themselves in when they are told that their unborn child is not "fully healthy and well [...] and, worst of all, is not going to survive.

"All her aspirations and dreams for her child are taken away and replaced with grief and distress at the very time when she should be facing a future with joy, hope and happiness," he added.

Harris said he was speaking as a member of a generation who could not vote in 1983, the year the 8th Amendment was signed into law, and explained how his own views on the subject have changed through listening to people's stories.

He's also apologised to Amanda Mellet, who took a case to the UN Human Rights Committee for her treatment when forced to travel for a termination.

"As I made clear at the time, I read the details in the report of Ms Mellett’s experience with a heavy heart," he stated.

"Putting aside for a moment the wider constitutional issue involved here, the absence of compassion in her treatment by our health service was deeply distressing. I am very sorry that this is how she was treated.

"Ireland’s history shows that it has been, in the past, a cold and uncaring place for women and children, and I felt the echoes of that when I read that UN view."

The Minister concluded by saying he was in favour of a referendum to repeal the 8th:

"Our present law immeasurably adds to the pain of those who make the difficult decision to terminate the pregnancy. I really wish it was the case that we could change that here today. But this House cannot change it.

"Only the Irish people can, and I hope that the Citizens Assembly will recommend that those of us who were never asked the question, and indeed everyone else, will be given the opportunity to answer it, after a careful, considerate, respectful and informed debate."