Tuesday, July 30, 2013

President Higgins and the abortion bill: Will he sign it or wont he?

The decision of President Higgins is now eagerly awaited following the meeting of the Council of State, convened to discuss the “Protection of Life in Pregnancy Bill 2013” which took place at Áras An Uachtaráin (The Irish President’s Official Residence) yesterday.  There is much discussion, speculation and analysis about this in today’s newspapers. During the meeting pro-life warriors held a peaceful prayer vigil at the gates of the Áras.

The Independent for example reports that former President Mary Robinson and former Taoiseach John Bruton who did not actually attend the meeting nevertheless made written submissions. It is understood that both recommended the abortion legislation not be referred to the Supreme Court.

In written submissions to President Michael D Higgins, the two former office holders said the bill should be signed into contentious law – and allow it to be challenged in the courts through individual cases.

The President's advisory body, the Council of State, debated the Protection of Life in Pregnancy Bill 2013 for almost four hours yesterday.

Mr Higgins has until tomorrow to decide whether to sign the bill into law or refer it to the Supreme Court to test its constitutionality.

While he didn't express an opinion at the meeting, there was a sense Mr Higgins would sign the bill.

President of the High Court, Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns, said there was no question the legislation would be challenged in the courts.

Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern gave a history of the issue, particularly from his own time in office, while his successor as Taoiseach, Brian Cowen, gave a more legalistic assessment of the legislation.

Former President Mary McAleese also gave her legal assessment of the legislation.

Mrs Robinson, Mr Bruton and former Taoiseach Albert Reynolds were the only three members not in attendance at Aras an Uachtarain yesterday.

But Mrs Robinson and Mr Bruton sent in written submissions, which were circulated amongst the members in recent days.

Although the former President would be regarded as liberal and the former Taoiseach as conservative, both felt it shouldn't be referred to the Supreme Court and cases should be allowed to happen.

"Mary Robinson was of the same view as John Bruton. Leave it to case law," a source said.

All 21 members of the Council of State present gave their view on the legislation as the President went around the table seeking opinions.


The advice given to Mr Higgins generally broke down into three categories: sign the bill into law; refer it to the Supreme Court; or sign into law to allow Supreme Court challenges.

Although it wasn't a unanimous view, it was generally felt the Government did well to take on the issue and that the Attorney General did well in presenting the case.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny, Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore and Attorney General Maire Whelan each said the Government felt the bill was in line with the Constitution.

The President of the High Court felt there was a risk of cases being taken and felt the legislation was going to be challenged if it was signed into law.

President Higgins has until tomorrow to decide

The meeting starting just before 3pm and finished at 6.45pm.