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Simon Harris to consult cabinet today to pass abortion legislation 'as quickly as possible'

By Daniel McConnell and Fiachra Ó Cionnaith

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has promised to introduce legislation to legalise abortions “as quickly as possible,” and says drafting of the bill will begin immediately.

Following Friday’s historic vote, wherein 66.4% of people voted to repeal the Eighth Amendment, Mr Varadkar has appeared to rule out special sittings of the Dáil to fast-track the legislation.

Speaking exclusively to the Irish Examiner, he said time will be needed during the summer to properly prepare the new legal framework, including allowing for largely unrestricted access to abortion up to the 12th week of pregnancy.

The Government has said it will be “quite challenging” to get the legislation to introduce abortion, into the Dáil before the summer recess, despite wanting to do so.

Mr Varadkar said that it is his intention to have all stages of the bill passed by the end of the year, but said it will take the summer to ready the bill. He added that Health Minister Simon Harris will seek Government permission to draft the new law this week.

An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar (centre), Minister for Health Simon Harris (second left) and Minister for Culture Josepha Madigan arrive at Dublin Castle. Pic: Brian Lawless/PA Wire.

“The Government wants to legislate to give effect to the will of the people as quickly as possible,” he said.

[quote]Minister Harris will seek Cabinet approval for priority detailed drafting of the bill to start immediately. That will take the summer. We would then intend to have it through the Dáil and Seanad perhaps as soon as September and October, but certainly completing all stages before the end of year.[/quote]

The Together4Yes campaign group urged TDs and senators to hold special sittings over the summer break to ensure the passage of the legislation.

Group co-ordinator Orla O’Connor said: “I certainly think that all of our TDs and senators should really consider a special sitting so that it could be progressed through the summer.”

The health minister is extremely eager to enact the legislation, his spokeswoman told the Irish Examiner. He will today meet senior officials to discuss the next steps and to prepare a memorandum for Government tomorrow.

He will also brief the Opposition and members of the all-party Oireachtas Committee who worked on this issue, on the next steps.

However, a number of other items need to be advanced, including the development of clinical guidance by medical colleges and institutes, and the regulation of certain medication for termination. Mr Harris said he hopes, with the support of the Oireachtas, to be able to pass legislation in the autumn, a spokeswoman for Mr Harris said.

Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone said she would wish to seek to have the legislation passed as quickly as possible, but that challenges exist.

Leo Varadkar greets Minster for Children Katherine Zappone as he arrives at Dublin Castle. Pic: Brian Lawless/PA Wire.

“We have to wait and see how long that will take. All of us would love to see Second Stage before we rise for the summer,” she said. “I have spoken to the Attorney General, who said it would be quite challenging to complete that bill.

[quote]It is really important that we have a deep sense of urgency as public representatives to ensure we move as quickly as possible to implement the will of the people.[/quote]

Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty described the calls for special sittings as “not a bad idea”.

“The clear mandate we got from the people is to do this and do it quickly, and the sooner we do it, the better,” she said.

The mural of Savita Halappanavar in Dublin as votes are counted in the referendum on the 8th Amendment. Pic: Niall Carson/PA Wire

Responding to the calls for extra sittings, Fianna Fáil’s Timmy Dooley said: “I’ve certainly no issue with that. If the Government are prepared to arrange time, I certainly think it would be the right thing to do to get it done.”

Mr Dooley, speaking to RTÉ radio, said that many of his party colleagues who opposed the referendum proposal will not block the legislation, saying they will respect the will of the people.

“They will have their own discussions, but I think quite a few will vote in favour of the legislation,” he said.

[quote]I certainly think there will be a majority in the Dáil and the Seanad to get this legislation through. I think some will vote for it and some will abstain.[/quote]

Both Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald and Labour leader Brendan Howlin called on the Government to bring forward, without delay, the necessary legislation.