Historic sitting as Dail debates abortion bill
The Government's journey toward holding a referendum on abortion in May is almost complete, as the Dail debate gets under way today.
The Oireachtas Bill's office will this morning publish the Referendum Bill ahead of the historic debate, due to start at 10.30am and last until 4pm.
A special sitting of the Dail has been arranged for today because most ministers will be abroad for global St Patrick's Day events next week.
It is hoped the debate will be completed at the next allocated time on Tuesday, March 20, when the Dail is due to sit until midnight.
There is cross-party support for the debate to reach the second stage as soon as possible, when it will go to the Seanad for debate and a vote.
The cabinet unanimously agreed yesterday to insert into the constitution the words: "Provision may be made by law for the regulation of termination of pregnancies" should the Eighth Amendment be repealed.
The Amendment, also known as Article 40.3.3 of the constitution, will then be deleted in full, should the referendum pass.
Health Minister Simon Harris will open this morning's discussion, when he will outline the contents of the Referendum Bill.
Crucially, he will give details of 21 policies the Government plans to introduce if the public votes in favour of repealing the Eighth Amendment.
These include the policy of imposing a "consideration period" of around 48-72 hours for women before they can access abortion pills or an abortion service.
The period will begin to elapse from when the woman first contacts her GP or health practitioner.
It will also confirm that any Irish doctor or medic will be given full rights to engage in conscientious objection and will not be forced to carry out a termination, or supply abortion pills.
"The women we are thinking of today, on International Women's Day, are the women who have courageously told personal, sensitive stories", said Mr Harris.
The Referendum Commission is responsible for the public information campaign which will inform voters on the question they are to be asked during the referendum.
"In terms of getting the legislation through the Oireachtas, we will require the co-operation of all members of the Oireachtas", said Mr Harris. "There's a responsibility" to enable "the people have their say".
TDs should "facilitate" a May referendum by making extra time to ensure the debate takes place and passes through the Dail and the Seanad.
The minister said he intends to "campaign vigorously" for a repeal of the Eighth Amendment.
Ministers Richard Bruton, Josepha Madigan, Regina Doherty and Charlie Flanagan joined the health minister at a press conference at Government Buildings yesterday to announce the publication of the Bill.
"It is a really important moment for us", said Education Minister Richard Bruton.
"I believe strongly that the time is right to make this change," he said.