Dáil Éireann - Volume 332 - 26 January, 1982

Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Amendment of Constitution.

1. Mr. Molloy asked the Taoiseach if he has given any commitment to bring forward an immediate amendment of the Constitution to protect the right to life of the unborn child; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

2. Mr. Barrett (Dublin North-West) asked the Taoiseach when he intends to introduce legislation in the Dáil to amend the Constitution to prevent abortion.

[2] The Taoiseach: With the permission of the Ceann Comhairle, I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 and 2 together and I would refer the Deputies to my reply to a Parliamentary Question of 20 October last about constitutional amendments.

I have, since then, given a commitment to members of the Pro-Life Amendment Campaign that I will consult with the Attorney General and will shortly ask the Government to consider whether the question of a Pro-Life amendment should [3] be dealt with separately, or should await the completion of the Attorney General's constitutional review.

Mr. Barrett (Dublin North-West): I remind the Taoiseach that a firm commitment was given by him to have this matter dealt with urgently, if his party were elected to Government. Is he aware that by coupling this matter with other constitutional issues, he is taking away from the importance of the pro-life campaign and is reneging on another election promise?

The Taoiseach: I rebut that accusation at once. There is no question of reneging on any promise. It is a question of the most effective way to implement this. That is what the Government are concerned about. We are totally opposed to abortion. Essentially the question now is whether the issue should be taken separately or should await the completion of the Attorney General's review and be dealt with in the general constitutional context. That is a matter which the Government will shortly decide.

Mr. Haughey: Would the Taoiseach indicate the exact terms of his commitment to the members of the Pro-Life Amendment Campaign, both before and since the general election campaign? In doing so, would he confirm or deny that he gave a categorical, unequivocal commitment, without any reference to any other aspect of constitutional change?

The Taoiseach: The position is that a constitutional review is now in progress. I can read out the relevant letter, if the Deputy wishes. This is a letter dated 5 August last which I have in front of me and which, firstly, thanked Dr. Vaughan for her letter. It goes on to say:

The Government is unalterably opposed to the legalisation of abortion and is committed to taking whatever steps are necessary to ensure that an appropriate constitutional amendment is brought forward. The Attorney General [4] is now examining the forms such an amendment might take.

That was before the constitutional review was announced.

Mr. S. Brennan: Would the Taoiseach be prepared to tell the House whether he himself favours such a referendum and whether or not such a referendum would be held on its own, or in conjunction with other referenda at a future time? Pending any such constitutional change which the Government may or may not intend, will the Government be introducing any changes in the law on abortion, irrespective altogether of the question of the constitution? If so, when would they propose to do so?

The Taoiseach: The latter is a separate question. As regards the first part of the Deputy's question, I have answered it. We will be deciding shortly whether to do this by way of a separate amendment or in the context of a change in the Constitution following the constitutional review. We shall be making an announcement on that in the quite near future.

Mr. S. Brennan: Does the Taoiseach himself favour such a referendum?

The Taoiseach: I am certainly strongly in favour of ensuring that the Constitution provides protection for life, including the life of the unborn child.

Mr. Barrett (Dublin North-West): May I take it that the delay by the Taoiseach is caused by the fact that there are elements in his own party which have announced in public that they favour the right of the woman to choose? Would that be the cause of this delay?

The Taoiseach: The position is that the Government, as a whole, and individually are firmly committed on this matter. The Deputy will not succeed in casting doubt on that commitment of the Government.

Mrs. Glenn: On a point of order, after [5] Deputy Haughey, if he wishes to speak on the same matter.

Mr. Haughey: May I again ask the Taoiseach to reply to my question which he has so far failed to do, namely, will he confirm or deny that his commitment to the members of the Pro-Life Campaign, both before and after the election, was without reservation and without reference to any other matter? Is he now telling the House that it would not be possible for him and the Government to proceed with this legislation and with this constitutional amendment, without reference to any other constitutional matter? Would he please deal with those two questions?

The Taoiseach: I have already read out the terms of the letter which I wrote in August last. As far as the rest is concerned, the Government will decide which is the best way to proceed to fulfil the commitment. I would deprecate any attempt to make this a political issue in the House because there are certain things that the parties in the House are united on and this is one. It is not an appropriate issue to make into a party one. Deputies are obviously entitled to make inquiries as to what our intentions are.

Mr. Haughey: Would the Taoiseach accept my assurance that we on this side of the House have no intention of making it a party issue and that whatever steps the Government take in this regard will receive full, expeditious co-operation from this side of the House? But I must reiterate the question which I am asking the Taoiseach. Would he not agree with the House that this legislation and this amendment could be proceeded with without reference to any other matter? This is a very simple question.

The Taoiseach: When I receive advice on the matter from the Attorney General, which will be in the near future, the Government will take a decision as to which is the best way to proceed.

Mrs. Glenn: I am looking for a direction [6] and it is relevant to what is being discussed at the moment. I had a written answer to a question to the Minister for Justice relating to a group of people trading under the name of the Well Woman Centre who are publicising the fact that they are running an abortion referral service. I did not request a written reply, but I got a written reply just before Christmas. That prevented me from asking supplementary questions.

An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy may ask a supplementary question now.

Mrs. Glenn: I had a reply from the Minister for Justice pointing out that he has no function in the matter. I accept that explanation. The Minister says that it is a matter for the Attorney General or the Director of Public Prosecutions.

Minister for Justice (Mr. J. Mitchell): May I clarify it?

Mr. Haughey: Let the Deputy ask her question.

An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy may ask a question of the Taoiseach or she may ask the Taoiseach to clarify the matter.

Mrs. Glenn: I am asking what is the Government's intention in relation to this. Deputies on the other side of the House need not be so facetious about it. This situation was allowed to continue while they were in office and they turned a blind eye to it. What are we to do about the fact that these people have made it public that they are carrying on this service when everybody throughout the length and breadth of this land is opposed to the slaughter of the innocents? That is what is happening.

Mr. J. Mitchell: I wish to clarify the situation in relation to giving a written reply. That was requested by the House and given by my Department.

Mr. Haughey: I must object to this procedure. It is the Taoiseach's question time.

[7] An Ceann Comhairle: The Minister is entitled to clarify the matter.

Mr. J. Mitchell: It is a matter for the Director of Public Prosecutions and has been referred to him by me.

Mr. S. Brennan: Could the Taoiseach give us an undertaking that he will have a final decision on this constitutional question in the current Dáil session?

The Taoiseach: This is a matter which the Government will be taking a decision on in the near future.

Professor O'Donoghue: I understood Deputy Glenn to say that it was stated in the reply which she received from the Minister for Justice that it was a matter for the Attorney General. The Minister for Justice said that it was a matter for the Director of Public Prosecutions. Could we have some clarification on that?

The Taoiseach: I am dealing with a quite separate question. The Deputy is asking about a question that was dealt with in the last session. I take it that the written reply arose from the fact that the Minister's questions were not reached and written replies were issued to all Deputies at that time. I have not got the terms of the reply here. It is a separate question. I can communicate with the Deputy but I cannot possibly deal with it now.

Dr. Browne: In view of the fact that none of the women Members of the House is prepared to refute the suggestion that women have not the right to choose in this matter let me as a male Member of this House say that I believe that they have a right to choose on this issue.

An Ceann Comhairle: No statements are to be made. We are asking questions only.