Belfast Telegraph

Ministers can dissent from Cabinet position on abortion vote, says Varadkar

Cabinet ministers will be free to oppose the Government position on the abortion referendum debate, the Taoiseach has said.

Leo Varadkar said the cabinet will have a "collective position" when any proposal for a referendum on the Eighth Amendment is put to the Dail, but indicated that would not prevent individual ministers from dissenting from that stance.

That raises the prospect of ministers taking different sides on the sensitive debate in a free vote in the Dail.

"What I would anticipate is cabinet acting collectively, as it always does," said Mr Varadkar.

"So if we put a procedure or proposition to the Dail and Seanad, that will be a collective decision of the Cabinet.

"That is not to say that people couldn't dissent from that."

Mr Varadkar said the Cabinet can "only operate collectively".

"Even in the old days when there were votes at Cabinet, and that probably hasn't happened for decades - you could have eight people voting one way, two people voting the other - but they would all agree that this was the collective decision of the cabinet.

"That wouldn't prevent them from dissenting to it."

On his personal opinion, the Fine Gael leader said he remained in "listening mode" ahead of Tuesday's publication of the report by the Oireachtas committee set up to examine whether Ireland's constitutional position on terminations should change.

He said his own view would not dictate the Government's position.

"I have a personal view on this but I also hold a very important office and the law of the land isn't going to be changed according to my personal views," he said.

"The committee is going to publish their report this week and in deference to the enormous amount of work they've done - and with respect in particular to the chair Catherine Noone - I want to see that report, I want to spend a bit of time over the weekend, over the Christmas break, reading it.

"I then intend having a special meeting of the Fine Gael party, my party, in the new year to hear their views.

"It will then be debated in the Dail as well and there'll be a discussion at Cabinet.

"I'll be in keen listening mode at least for the next couple of weeks to hear what people have to say, including members of the public about their views on the report and we'll take it from there.

"My commitment though is that people will be given a choice to make a decision on this next year."

In his pre-Christmas press briefing, the Taoiseach emphasised the importance of a referendum commission in informing public debate ahead of next summer's referendum.

"It will be their job to give objective views and to refute perhaps things that aren't true," he said.

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