The Irish Labour Party, jubilant following the resounding endorsement of gay marriage in the republic, is now turning its attentions to liberalisation of the country’s abortion laws. Although a more contentious topic than gay marriage, senior Labour figures are confident that they can ride a newfound wave of liberalism to overturn current abortion rules.
Labour is the junior partner in a governing coalition with Fine Gael, a centre-right party and Ireland’s largest. Labour is now insisting that a referendum on repealing the eighth amendment of the Irish constitution, which grants equal rights to both mother and unborn child, is made a red line in any future coalition agreement.
Currently abortion is illegal in Ireland unless the mother’s life is in danger. Campaigners have long argued that it should be legalised to allow rape victims to access abortions, or in cases of incest or fatal foetal abnormality. They have also argued that threat of suicide should be considered a mortal risk to the mother’s health.
Labour now hope to make abortion legal in the case of fatal foetal abnormalities. Speaking at an event in Dublin, Labour leader Joan Burton said that the issue will form a central part of her party’s manifesto going into the next election, due to take place no later than April 2016.
But senior Fine Gael members have insisted that they will not be rushed into liberalising abortion laws. In the case of fatal foetal abnormalities, a Fine Gael Cabinet minister told the Irish Independent: “It is not compatible with the advice of the Attorney General.”
Another party source confirmed: “We anticipated Labour would reopen the abortion debate if the referendum came through but this is an issue we won’t be rushed on.”
Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, Labour’s minister for equality who was ecstatic following the referendum result, has admitted that a referendum win on abortion is a more challenging prospect than the gay marriage victory, saying: “If we were to have this referendum, which I passionately believe we should have, it’s a long conversation . . . and the preparatory work is only beginning,” He added that people who wanted a referendum on the matter should vote Labour, the Times has reported.
But Kathleen Lynch, Labour’s deputy leader is more optimistic, saying: “I believe that if you are forceful enough in your conviction, which I think we are, that repeal of the eighth amendment is very do-able.”
Senator Ivana Bacik, who heads Labour’s internal committee on abortion, will this week lodge a request that the Oireachtas Health Committee begins to examine the issue by the autumn.
The attack on Christian values, first through the referendum on gay marriage and now on abortion, has caused some within the Catholic Church in Ireland to ask hard questions about the church’s role in modern Ireland.
Diarmuid Martin, the Archbishop of Dublin, said that the church needs a “reality check” after the results of the referendum became known, adding “For me, one of the biggest challenges is the fact such a large number of young people who grew up and went to Catholic schools in a Catholic environment in Ireland are drifting away from the Church.”
Archbishop Martin has asked priests in his diocese to identify five parishes in which to pilot a new outreach program to children.