Irish abortion plan 'may be step too far'

Leo Varadkar is declining to give his opinion on the debate

Mr Varadkar said there were diverse views at cabinet during a discussion about the likely referendum on the Eighth Amendment.

Varadkar said there was "strong consensus" that a referendum be held this year but he declined to say on which side he'll be campaigning.

"I want to hear the views of everybody across government, across parliament. And I particularly want to consult further with the women because at the end of the day it will be women who are most impacted on this issue". So my party, the Fine Gael party, will discuss this at our special parliamentary party meeting next week. "But I believe that we must have this debate carried out in atmosphere of calm, an atmosphere of acknowledging that it is going to be very, very hard to achieve consensus, that there will be people with differing views, differing opinions". The Dáil and Seanad will be discussing the issue next week.

The Taoiseach has expressed his hope that a referendum will be held in May, but that timeline means quick movement on the issue will be needed when the Dáil returns next week.

It was a private and personal matter and there was a diversity of views in "almost every household in the country", Mr Varadkar added.

The Taoiseach says allowing abortion without restriction for up to 12 weeks into a pregnancy may be a step too far for some people.

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In the absence of a full Cabinet decision, which won't be made until after the Dáil has debated the issue, he wants to focus his work on the recommendations of the Oireachtas Committee on the Eighth Amendment.

He also said that having read the committee's report he understands the logic behind posing that question to voters given the widespread availability of abortion pills.

Mr Varadkar did not express a view at Cabinet but said the Government had three options: do nothing, follow the Oireachtas committee's report or suggest an alternative proposal. Some others Ministers were non-commital.

"It's very clear that some members of the Government are determined to keep the time frame as tight as possible to deny the public an opportunity to scrutinise closely the proposal that will be put to the people", spokeswoman Cora Sherlock said.

"I don't believe that this is an issue that should be in our constitution", he said. Health minister Simon Harris has suggested that the date could be May 25 if there are no delays in the Dail.

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