Tuesday 19 March 2019

Abortion law to go before Dail in just 6 weeks with service ready by December

Simon Harris
Simon Harris
Micheal Martin
John Halligan

The final two days of the Dail term are to be set aside for TDs to debate legislation that will formally allow for the introduction of abortion.

Attorney General Seamus Woulfe's office has set a deadline of six weeks for drawing up laws based on the proposal presented to the public before last Friday's referendum.

However, it is not expected that the first legal abortion will actually take place in Ireland until December or January.

Health Minister Simon Harris is now expected to bring new laws to the Dail on July 10 and 11, just as TDs rise for their summer break.


It is hoped that, given the lengthy debate which has already taken place, it will be possible to quickly pass the legislation over to the Oireachtas Health Committee. The committee will sit over the summer months to assess the details.

Sources say this would allow the Dail to formally approve an abortion regime in early September.

"That means that even if we have a general election in the autumn the legislation will be passed. The other preparatory work can continue outside of the political realm regardless of who is in power," a Government source said.

Key to that work will be the compilation of clinical guidelines for GPs.

The Health Products Regulatory Authority will work to source appropriate pills for use in the Irish health system.

GPs have already indicated that they want assurances around the resources that will be in place for them.

Mr Harris will seek Cabinet approval for the timelines when ministers meet this morning.

Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin has already indicated that he supports the idea of holding Dail sittings over the summer period if necessary.

Meanwhile, laws giving terminally-ill people the right to access assisted suicide are to come back on the Dail agenda in the wake of the referendum result.

Euthanasia is set to be the next big moral question facing the country, according to a junior minister.

John Halligan is just "weeks" away from producing fresh legislation that will open up the options for "achieving a dignified and peaceful end of life".

The Independent Alliance minister brought a Dying With Dignity Bill before the Oireachtas in 2015 but it fell with the calling of a general election two months later.

However, the Herald has established that he is working on a renewed version.

"I'll have everything ready in a matter of weeks," Mr Halligan said.

As a minister he is prohibited from introducing legislation that hasn't been approved by the Cabinet - but Mr Halligan is lining up a Government backbencher to bring the bill to the Dail floor on his behalf.

The Waterford TD is meeting with legal professionals next week to tease out the issues.


It is understood the proposed laws would require a person to be terminally ill, have a "clear and settled intention to end his or her own life" and be over 18.

Safeguards would require a person to make a declaration in the presence of a witness who is not a beneficiary of the ill person's estate.

It would have to be countersigned by the medical practitioner from whom the person has requested assistance to end their life.

Asked whether he believes euthanasia will gain public support, Mr Halligan said the abortion referendum demonstrates that people are showing "courage and compassion".

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