The Joint Committee on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution launched its final report, after examining the recommendations of the Citizens’ Assembly in relation to the Eighth Amendment.
During the launch, Gavan Reilly, of TV3, asked the following question:
“You’re proposing the terms of a constitutional referendum but you’re also proposing what a new legislative regime should be afterwards. Are you at all worried that the two issues might be conflated in people’s minds? And that they won’t see this as being a referendum on the repeal of the 8th amendment but whether rather it should be a referendum on 12 weeks on request or something like that? And that perhaps there might be people who are in favour of repeal who may vote against it on the basis of what you’re proposing afterwards?“
In response, chair of the committee Senator Catherine Noone said:
“The point is that in a referendum, people, it’s proven that people don’t always vote on the issue and this referendum will be slightly different because I think people will engage to a large degree with it.
“There will be a lot of misinformation. I think it will be difficult to keep this debate factual. And, you know, there’s a lot of opinion in it, naturally. So, it will be a difficult process. Ok. Assuming that we have a referendum, the Taoiseach has indicated that there will be one. I mean I’ve heard voices saying ‘oh who’s said that there’ll definitely be a referendum, it has to be led through the Houses’.
“I personally can’t envisage a situation where we wouldn’t have one. But once the debate starts, once the referendum campaign kicks off I suppose, once we definitely know there is one, it’s open season.
“Nobody can control who gets on the airwaves. RTE, in particular, are very tied in terms of showing two sides of an argument, it’s only right that they do.
“But, you know, anyone can get on the airwaves essentially and people will be opportunistic and I would say politicians, and I’m one, a lot of us here are, we should let other voices into this to a large degree aswell.”
Social Democrat TD Catherine Murphy said:
“The process for the Citizens’ Assembly and the process for the Eighth Committee were required to consider both and that’s what we did. I think in many ways that brings into play the evidence that we heard.
“I think, I mean people would have asked if it was a straightforward repeal, without saying what was likely to follow…
“…I think giving people an expectation, following a very robust process, a two-stage process, I think is helpful in actually addressing that issue.
“Because there’s a whole lot of people out there, like, for example, the point that Danny made, about what was the evidence that most impacted you.
“For me, it was a combination of evidence in relation to, Mary O’Toole, the [senior] counsel from the X case, together with Rhona Mahony and Peter Boylan, for example. When you actually, how profound it was to hear a senior counsel say we know what the law is now. The law is that a woman is entitled to a termination if her life is at risk.
“And then we heard, and only if her life is at risk, and then we heard the medics tell us that the, is it a 20% risk, is it a 50% risk, how do you evaluate that risk?
“When you put those two things together and I made the point, you think of someone’s wife or partner, you think of a daughter, you think of a sister, you think of a child and that child hoping that their mother would be cared for in a way, in a healthcare environment.
“They’re the kind of arguments that we’re going to have to make. But I think the evidence that we heard was so convincing that we have got to go out there and not only hope that this referendum happens but really encourage the early holding of a referendum.
“But we also have to get out there and lead in a referendum campaign and make sure that we don’t do what happened in the divorce referendum and that was that we had to go back a second time and there was a ten-year timeframe. I think there’s an obligation on us to do that and to use the information, not conflate it, but to use it in a very powerful way. “
The report can be read here