18 February 2016

Speaking at Labour’s launch of Labour’s plan for a Modern, More Equal Ireland:

The eighth amendment to our Constitution means that our mothers, sisters and friends have no access to a legal termination in Ireland in cases of fatal foetal abnormality, rape, or incest.

I campaigned against the eighth amendment in the 1980s – as did many progressive people, inside and outside the Labour Party.

More than 30 years later, an entire generation – who had no say in that decision – remains bound by a constitutional provision that utterly fails to reflect the values – and realities – of modern Ireland.

It’s high time that this generation was given the right to choose – through a referendum – whether the eighth amendment should remain in our Constitution.

No other major political party or grouping will deliver this referendum.

  • Fianna Fáil doesn’t believe the people should be allowed to decide


  • Fine Gael haven’t decided whether the people should be allowed to decide


  • Sinn Féin claims to support a referendum, but will refuse to participate in government unless Gerry Adams is Taoiseach


So, there is only one choice for women and men who care passionately about this issue: to recognise Labour as the one party offering an unequivocal – and realistic – pledge to deliver a referendum.

We understand that the vast majority of Irish people sit in the middle ground on this issue. Many are uneasy about abortion. But they are no longer prepared to tolerate a regime that puts their sisters, mothers and friends at risk.

For this reason, it is not enough to promise a referendum. It will have to be won. For that to happen, we will need to explain the merits of the case in a respectful but forthright way – just as we did on marriage equality last year.

That’s why Labour’s manifesto also commits us to campaign strongly to win a referendum.

Our third pledge is that, if the referendum is passed, we will put comprehensive legislation to the Houses of the Oireachtas. This will replace the existing draconian law on termination.

Labour will legislate to ensure a new medical and legal framework that addresses the legitimate concerns that many citizens have.

It will recognise the importance of sustaining embryonic and foetal life in pregnancy, while allowing termination under strict conditions in the following circumstances:

  • A fatal foetal abnormality


  • A real and substantial risk to the physical or mental health of a woman in the early stages of pregnancy


  • A risk of severe or disabling damage to a woman’s health in the later stages of pregnancy


  • And where a pregnancy arising out of rape, incest or serious sexual assault creates a risk to a woman’s physical or mental health.

Debate and consultation on complex matters like this are important in a democracy. But they cannot be an endless excuse for inaction when our mothers, sisters and friends remain at risk.

We’ve been discussing this issue for more than 30 years. It must be addressed by the next Dáil.

 This will only happen if the next Government includes a political party that is wholly committed to repeal of the eighth, and which understands what it takes to actually deliver – rather than just demand – progressive social change.

There would have been no marriage equality referendum without Labour in the last government. And there will be no referendum on the eighth amendment unless Labour is in the next Government.



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