The Irish Times reports Thursday 25th July that President Michael D Higgins has announced he will convene a meeting of the Council of State to seek its advice on whether or not he should refer the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill 2013 to the Supreme Court to test its constitutionality.According to the report a statement issued by Áras an Uachtaráin has confirmed that President Higgins will be invoking the powers available to him under Article 26 of the Constitution to convene the Council of State to reach a decision on referring a Bill.
The meeting will take place at Áras an Uachtaráin next Monday afternoon.
The Bill completed its passage through the Oireachtas on Tuesday, when the Seanad voted in favour of the legislation.
Article 26.1 states: “ The President, after consultation with the Council of State, refer any Bill to which this Article applies to the Supreme Court for a decision on the question as to whether such Bill or any specified provision or provisions of such Bills is or are repugnant to this Constitution.”
If the President decides to refer the Bill it must be done within seven days of him receiving the Bill from the Oireachtas.
A total of 15 Bills have been referred since 1940. The last Bill referred to the Supreme Court was the Nursing Homes Bill in early 2005. The Bill proposed to prevent retrospective payments to residents of nursing homes and other institutions and was referred by then President Mary McAleese.
The Supreme Court ruled the Bill was repugnant to the Constitution.
Once a Bill is found to be in keeping with the Constitution after being referred under the Article 26 provision, the legislation can never be challenged on constitutional grounds again by a citizen in the courts.
The Council of State is comprised of the Taoiseach, Tánaiste, Chief Justice, President of the High Court, Ceann Comhairle, the two former presidents, the five former taoisigh, retired chief justices, as well as those named by Mr Higgins. They are: Michael Farrell, Deirdre Heenan, Catherine McGuinness, Gearóid Ó Tuathaigh, Ruairí McKiernan, Sally Mulready, and Gerard Quinn.