Leo Varadkar warning over Irish abortion referendum

Leo Varadkar Image copyright RTE
Image caption Mr Varadkar said the debate on abortion in Ireland had been dominated by the extremes

Irish Health Minister Leo Varadkar has said an abortion referendum should not take place in the run up to the Republic's next general election.

Mr Varadkar was speaking in the Irish parliament (Dáil) on Thursday.

He said the problem with the debate about abortion in Ireland was it had been dominated by the extremes.

Mr Varadkar said it centred on "the Catholic versus anti-Catholic view of things, rather than what's right and what's wrong".

He said the debate was "framed in terms of Christian ideology versus social ideology or being pro-choice or anti-choice, as if you could ever reduce it to that, because human experience is not black and white and medicine is not black and white either.

"There is never going to be perfect legislation that removes all tragedies related to pregnancy," he added.

Mr Varadkar said that "in relation to the eighth amendment [of the constitution], again, people calling for the repeal of that need to consider what that means.

"Just repealing the eighth amendment means deleting from the constitution any protection from the life of the mother and the unborn and replacing it with nothing, so people need to consider whether that is what they want, whether they want to replace it with a different amendment," he said.

"And even if you do change the constitution it doesn't change the legislation. The law actually doesn't change at all and you would need to legislate subsequently."

'Really bad idea'

The 1983 eighth amendment of the Irish constitution states: "The state acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right."

In order to make a change to the constitution, a referendum has to be held.

Mr Varadkar said it would be a "really bad idea" to hold a referendum in 2015, in the run up to a general election.

"That's exactly what happened in 1983. In the run-up to a general election people were put in a position where they made commitments in the run-in to a general election that maybe they shouldn't have, so let's not repeat the mistake of 1983 and have all that again in 2015," he said.

"There is a time and a place for a considered non-ideological debate and conversation about this matter in this country and it shouldn't be done on foot of a tragedy or a very hard case and it shouldn't be done in the run-in to a general election."

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