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Iona calls for clarity from Referendum Commission

By Ann Marie Foley - 26 April, 2018

Print version referendum guide ready for dispatch

The Iona Institute has called on the Referendum Commission to “clearly and decisively” confirm that the unborn child will lose all constitutional protection in the event of the Eighth Amendment being repealed.

The new Referendum Commission was established by the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government with High Court Judge Ms Isobel Kennedy nominated as the Chairperson of the Commission.

The Iona Institute, referring to Ms Justice Isobel Kennedy’s interview on Newstalk Breakfast on 24 April, responded by saying that she did not make it clear enough that the effect of repealing the Eighth Amendment will be to leave the unborn entirely without constitutional protection, especially since the recent Supreme Court decision – M vs the Minister for Justice – which confirmed that the unborn has no constitutional protection outside of the right to life.

“The issue in this referendum is whether or not, as a people, we wish to deprive unborn children of all constitutional protection and leave their rights in the hands of the Oireachtas,” said Maria Steen on behalf of the Iona Institute.

She continued: “Ms Justice Isobel Kennedy has confirmed that the Oireachtas will be free to decide the circumstances under which abortions can take place if the referendum is passed, but she needs to add that they will be doing so in an environment whereby the unborn, in contrast to all other human beings, will have no constitutional protection. This is the most important fact voters need to know.”

Maria Steen added that Ms Justice Kennedy is correct to say that the Irish people are not voting on the legislation that would replace the Eighth Amendment, but they are not voting in a vacuum.

“The very purpose of the referendum from the government’s point of view is to allow it to legislate for abortion, and the government has made it perfectly clear what it wants as a starting point, namely abortion for any reason up to three months, which is when 90 per cent of abortions take place, and between three months and six months on the sort of ‘health’ grounds that have led to de facto abortion-on-demand in the UK,” she added.

The Referendum Commission states on its website: “On Friday 25th May 2018, you will be asked to vote on a proposal to change the Constitution of Ireland. The proposed change to the Constitution concerns the regulation of termination of pregnancy.”

The guide on the website runs to eight pages and in it the Commission explains the current law, describes the proposed change, and explains the legal effect of a Yes vote and the legal effect of a No vote. Some 2.2 million copies of a printed version are to be delivered to every household in the country.

In the section titled ‘The legal effect of a Yes vote’ the guide states: “If a majority votes Yes this will allow the Oireachtas to pass laws regulating the termination of pregnancy. These laws need not limit the availability of termination to circumstances where there is a real and substantial risk to the life of the mother. Any law may be changed by the Oireachtas.”

In the section titled ‘The legal effect of a No vote’ the guide states: “If a majority votes No, then the present Article 40.3.3 will remain in place unchanged. Laws may be passed to provide for the termination of pregnancy only where there is a real and substantial risk to the life of the mother including the risk of suicide. Any law may be changed by the Oireachtas.”

Maria Steen from the Iona Institute

In relation to both a Yes and a No vote the guide states: “If challenged any law may be declared invalid by the courts if it conflicts with the Constitution.”

The guide also states that provisions on freedom to travel and information will remain the same unless the majority votes Yes and then this can be changed by a new law or be declared invalid by the courts.

“Our role is to provide a simple, clear, independent account of the referendum proposal,” stated Justice Isobel Kennedy on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland on 23 April.

Her fellow members of the Referendum Commission include the Ombudsman, Mr Peter Tyndall; the Comptroller and Auditor General, Mr Seamus McCarthy; the Clerk Assistant of the Dáil, Mr Peter Finnegan; and the Clerk of the Seanad, Mr Martin Groves.

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