Dáil Statements on the Result of the Referendum – Speech for Minister Harris

Ceann Comhairle,

In January, when I addressed this House on the report of Joint Committee on the Eighth Amendment, I spoke of some of the dark moments in our country’s history and in particular our treatment of women.

Today, I address this House in what promises to be a brighter Ireland. The people have spoken and they have said: we care. The women I have spoken to since last Friday’s historic step for our country feel that their fellow citizens have voted to tell them they are trusted, they are valued and they are equal.

For me this was always about more than giving the Oireachtas the power to regulate termination of pregnancy. It was about shouldering our responsibilities and making sure that compassionate healthcare will be provided to women at home in Ireland at last.

It’s about consigning a misogynistic legacy to our history books.

It’s about maturing as a tolerant, non-judgmental, inclusive Republic.

I want to acknowledge the unwavering work of many women over many years, some since 1983 and before, in campaigning for this day to come.

I want to acknowledge the work of women and men in other parties and groups here who have campaigned long and hard for this across many Dáils.

Most particularly, I want to acknowledge the Together for Yes campaign which built a coalition of compassion right across our country and fought so hard to deliver the result we got.

I think we held a very different debate and campaign in the run up to this referendum, and I hope that bodes well for the future.

I want to thank most sincerely the women and men who came forward with their personal stories and, in touching on the most intimate, difficult moments of their lives, touched all of our hearts.

I am eager to now implement the will of the people without delay. I brought a Memorandum to Cabinet today requesting the Government’s approval to draft a Bill to Regulate Termination of Pregnancy based on the General Scheme approved by Government in March.

The provisions of the General Scheme, which was published on the Department of Health’s website, are, as you know, based on the recommendations of the Joint Committee on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution, which was established to consider the report and recommendations of the Citizens’ Assembly.

I also brought a timetable of next steps in the process to Cabinet and it is my aim to have the legislation published within six weeks.

The team in my Department working on the legislation is the same team that delivered the Constitutional Bill for the Referendum and the draft General Scheme of a Bill to Regulate Termination of Pregnancy, in a very challenging time frame.

Therefore I have every confidence in them to meet these new deadlines that are also extremely ambitious but necessary if we want to publish the legislation by this summer.

Officials in the Department of Health and the Office of the Attorney General will meet regularly to progress the drafting of the Bill.

But it is not just about the legislation. There are a number of important elements that need to progress including the regulation of abortion pills, and planning the services necessary to support the implementation of the legislation.

It is my intention to devise specific proposals for the development and enhancement of services which will be required to effectively operate the legislation once it is commenced. This will require the active participation of the professional colleges and medical organisations, as well as the HSE and other providers.

I intend that the service developments will reflect:

  • The Ancillary recommendations made by the Joint Oireachtas Committee on the Eighth Amendment;
  • A broad programme of women’s health services in primary care which would be reflected in GP contracts;
  • Developments in line with the maternity strategy in hospital settings which will be required to support the legislation;
  • Other relevant and necessary service developments;
  • Access and eligibility for these services.

I will seek the approval of Government for these measures at the same time as I seek approval to publish the Bill.

In the meantime, as well as progressing the legislation, the Department of Health will work with relevant stakeholders to progress the development of services for termination of pregnancy.

All of these elements are required to be done so we can complete the necessary steps to commence new services in this country by year end.

It is now my intention to return to Government in July to request approval for a Bill to Regulate the Termination of Pregnancy, for it to be published and for the subsequent initiation of the Bill in the Oireachtas.

I am determined to get this done but I am also determined to get it right, for women and doctors.

I will meet with Opposition parties tomorrow and I ask for us to continue working in the bipartisan way we have so far to deliver the next steps. This cross-party collaboration is essential and something we owe to the Irish people in delivering on the resounding result they have given us.