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Citizens’ Assembly draws its conclusions

By Susan Gately - 21 April, 2017

The work of the Citizens’ Assembly on abortion reaches its conclusion this weekend when delegates will vote on a series of recommendations relating to the Eighth Amendment.

According to a spokeswoman for the Assembly, the work programme for this weekend will focus on reaching the recommendations “primarily by ballot paper voting. It will comprise a number of steps, namely agreeing on the content and wording of the ballot paper and voting.”

The Assembly, which is chaired by Supreme Court judge Mary Laffoy, has been considering the Eighth Amendment, which was inserted into the Constitution in 1983 and guarantees to protect the equal right to life of the mother and the unborn. This is its fifth meeting in six months.

The secretariat of the Assembly has prepared a draft ballot paper which delegates will have already received. They will debate and agree a final ballot paper before voting. “Voting will be in secret and the voting process and counting of ballot papers will be overseen by a former returning officer and their team,” the Assembly told the Irish Times.

At its last meeting, Brian Murray SC outlined three basic options for the Assembly delegates: to leave the constitutional ban on abortion in place, to recommend that it be excised from the Constitution completely, or to recommend that article 40.3.3 should be amended to allow for greater access to abortion while retaining a constitutional prohibition on abortion in some cases.

The Coalition to Repeal the Eighth Amendment is calling for the deletion of the Eighth Amendment with no replacement. The Pro Life Campaign has appealed for its retention. “I sincerely hope they will not recommend the holding of a referendum having reflected on the Eighth Amendment and the hugely positive and life-saving impact it has had and continues to have on society,” said Cora Sherlock from the PLC. She said there would be nothing “democratic or liberal about a referendum as it would involve an attack on the most basic human right of all, namely the right to life”.

The gathering this weekend will involve both public and private sessions. The public sessions of the Assembly will be live streamed on http://www.citizensassembly.ie.

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