A government party member of the Irish parliament is leading the attempt to force the President of Ireland to call a referendum on plans to legislate for abortion.
Labour Party deputy Colm Keaveney is in discussions with politicians from all parties in a bid to get enough support to enforce a constitutional provision to force a referendum on the Bill.
One website, Irish online radio, has claimed that Keaveney’s plan already enjoys the support of 39 members of the Irish parliament and 24 senators.
And Keaveney has vowed to press ahead with plans to activate the referendum despite his calls being dismissed by government ministers Brian Hayes and Leo Varadkar.
Keaveney has confirmed to another website, TheJournal.ie, that he has been involved in ‘an informal process’ with a group of cross-party deputies about the proposed legislation which will allow abortion in Ireland in specific circumstances.
He said: “It is fair to say that discussions are taking place for deputies whose consciences are struggling under the grip of the whip system.
“We’ve been working within an informal process with both pro-life and pro-choice TDs (deputies) who have major ethical and other issues with the bill.
“It is based around a group of like-minded TDs who have concerns about the legislation, as is.”
Reports on Sunday claimed that a number of Fine Gael, Labour, Sinn Féin and Independent TDs plan to use Article 27 of the Constitution to ensure the public is asked to vote on whether it approves of the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill 2013 before it is signed into law.
Keaveney, who lost the party whip after voting against changes to respite care last year, has declined to say how many deputies and Senators are involved in the process.
But he added: “It is my firm belief that the only appropriate course of action is to ascertain the people’s view.
“Currently, it is about information sharing and putting the preliminary groundwork in place. A lot of deputies were surprised this was available to them.
“It is not a Constitutional referendum. It is a yes/no on the Bill itself.”
Keaveney plans to hold a series of meetings before the parliament’s summer break in a fortnight.
He added: “I don’t understand why anybody would be afraid to engage democratically with its citizens.”
However Junior Minister Brian Hayes has dismissed the calls for a referendum on the Bill, stating that two referenda have already been held on the abortion issue in the past two decades.
Hayes said: “People have already rejected previous governments’ contentions that the X Case ruling shouldn’t apply.”
Opponents to the proposed abortion bill need 55 deputies and 30 senators to sign a petition enabling them to ask President Michael D Higgins to rule on the matter under Article 27 of the Constitution.
Hayes added: “I am aware of the Article. I don’t think it is going to happen. We’ve already had this debate. We’ve had the referendum.
“Most Fine Gael TDs and Senators would support the legislation but there could be a small number of defections. Very extensive dialogue is ongoing.”
Sinn Féin’s Pearse Doherty has also said his party would not be supporting such a move as it had a clear policy and mandate to support legislation for the X Case.
Doherty said: “Why would we support an attempt to frustrate that?”