Wednesday 22 May 2019

'I'm not running scared of any debate, it's just protocol,' says Varadkar

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar speaks to (from left) Claire Woods,
Theresa Newman and TDs Kate O’Connell and Maria Bailey
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar speaks to (from left) Claire Woods, Theresa Newman and TDs Kate O’Connell and Maria Bailey

Leo Varadkar has said protocol around the office of the Taoiseach stops him from debating the Eighth Amendment referendum with those on opposing sides.

Mr Varadkar told the Herald that the Taoiseach normally debates exclusively with the leaders of the other political parties during referendums.

Given that all other party leaders are in favour of repealing the legislation, there is nobody of appropriate stature to debate with him, he said.


"I haven't done any of the TV debates because there's a protocol around the Taoiseach's office," Mr Varadkar said.

"What you do as Taoiseach is you debate other party leaders. Because the other party leaders are all supporting a Yes vote, that doesn't arise.

"You tend to only debate opponents in that kind of scenario, so you know, who would I be debating?

"Would I be up against Mattie McGrath?"

The Taoiseach, who was once staunchly anti-abortion even in cases such as rape, said his position evolved after "listening to the women in my life, my mum and my sister - who will be voting Yes".

He said proposals to legislate for abortion up to 12 weeks were necessary because all crisis pregnancies are hard cases.

Abortion is "never an easy way out. I can't imagine how anyone could make that decision easily," he added.

He also said it was "virtually impossible" to legislate for abortion in cases of rape alone due to the difficulty of proving rape.

"In Poland they have that law and the equivalent of the DPP has to certify that the story you're telling of being raped is credible," Mr Varadkar said.

"And when you think of having to write a law like that and put women who were victims of sexual assault or sexual violence through that process, I find it revolting."

Mr Varadkar warned that women were also at "real risk" by importing abortion pills without clinical supervision.


"I'm personally very worried that it's only a matter of time before we have a tragedy in Ireland, where somebody takes an abortion pill without supervision and dies as a result.

"If you vote No on Friday, we wash your hands afterwards, as if we're somehow not responsible for that," he said.

As the referendum campaign enters its final week, Mr Varadkar warned against "notoriously unreliable" poll predictions.

Latest polls say that the Repeal side is in the lead, albeit with a narrowing margin.

Mr Varadkar believes the No side will turn out in big numbers. "They're very motivated," he added.

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