THE ABORTION issue should be dealt with by an all-party Oireachtas committee, according to Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny, who has ruled out giving any pre-election commitment to hold a referendum on the matter.
Dealing with the re-emergence of abortion as a political issue, following the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), Mr Kenny told The Irish Times the best way to deal with it would be through an all-party Oireachtas committee.
“While the ECHR judgment must be responded to, it will not be the immediate priority of a Fine Gael-led government. Our priority will be to restore sound public finances, get people back to work and reform our public services and political system,” he said.
Mr Kenny said abortion had been a very divisive issue in Ireland in the past and a re-run of those debates was not what the country needed right now.
“This is very divisive and there are deeply and sincerely held views on all sides of this argument. This obviously is going to be a matter for the next Oireachtas to deal with,” said Mr Kenny, adding that the first thing that would have to be done would be to determine the scale and the nature of the problem.
“We had the X case way back in the 1990s and the European Court of Human Rights has given its decision now. This judgment required proper analysis and some in-depth discussion. What I would propose is that the next Oireachtas should establish a process to look at the core issues here. I am not going to shirk the issue but I am not going to predetermine what the outcome will be.”
He says that in the case of the Oireachtas Committee on Children’s Rights, it was established with a predetermined outcome in mind and that was to hold a referendum.
“In this case, my view is that we should set up an appropriate all-party committee with terms of reference that would allow it to have access to the best legal advice, to the best medical advice . . . what should be done might range across a spectrum, from legislation to a list of State recommendations or regulations that the medical profession could adhere to and operate within,” he says.
“My position is I do not favour legalising abortion on demand. We have a situation where you have difficult, hard cases, and some people have gone through very difficult circumstances but there is an ECHR judgment, there is a Supreme Court decision and there is a constitutional position. If the next Oireachtas is to respond, it has got to determine what the facts are, the scale of the problem and the nature of it and see if we can arrive at a consensus on how to deal with it.”
On Fine Gael’s plans for reforming the political system, Mr Kenny repeated his commitment to reduce the number of TDs and to abolish the Seanad.
However, he expressed caution about changing the current multi-seat system of proportional representation.
“Many years ago, Liam Cosgrave favoured a single-seat system of PR and Dev tried to abolish PR twice and the people said ‘No’. So the Irish people are very conscious of their right to elect whoever they want to elect,” says Kenny.
He said that one of the dangers of list systems is that they have a tendency to develop into “old boys’ clubs”, with a self-perpetuating elite being offered to the electorate.
“I am not one who favours the appointment of people who have not been elected to positions of political responsibility,” he said.
Mr Kenny said many TDs spend a lot of time doing constituency work because they have no other role, adding that he had a commitment to change that by reforming the way the Dáil works and giving TDs a direct involvement in legislation.
“If you have a smaller number of really powerful committees and you give your national legislators the opportunity to do real work on legislation and give them a challenge and give them responsibility and targets, you will transform the way the Dáil operates.”