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OPINION: Respect the right to differ

March 18th, 2018 5:00 PM

By Southern Star Team

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WITH the announcement of what exactly voters in the forthcoming referendum about whether or not to repeal the 8th amendment to Bunreacht na hÉireann are being asked to consider, the battle lines are now well and truly drawn between those for and against the proposal.

The two sides differ so much that there is no real middle ground here, as voters are being asked whether or not they want abortion to be made available in Ireland. It is such an emotive subject that rational debate on it is often difficult to conduct, therefore the Referendum Commission, being set up by Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government Eoghan Murphy and chaired by Justice Isobel Kennedy, will have a vital role to play in disseminating the facts about the matter and setting out the key arguments for and against the proposal to repeal the 8th amendment (Article 40.3.3) of the Constitution and replacing it with the words that ‘provision be made by law for the regulation of termination of pregnancies.’

That, of course, is subject to the passing of the 36th Amendment of the Constitution Bill 2018, which was introduced by Minister for Health Simon Harris at a special sitting of the Dáil on Friday of last week before government ministers scattered across the globe on St Patrick’s Day trade and PR missions. They will be back again for a special sitting until midnight on Tuesday next to try to further expedite its passage through the Houses of the Oireachtas because of the upcoming Easter holidays, with the aim of having the Bill signed into law by President Higgins before the end of April so that the referendum can take place by the end of May.

This big rush to ram through the legislation may seem disrespectful in some ways, given the seriousness of what they are discussing, however it is ultimately a matter for the people to have their say on, and the sooner the better as far as our politicians are concerned as many of them feel they are in a no-win situation either way. The government, which is backing the proposal to repeal and replace the 8th amendment, wants to have the referendum before third-level college students disperse, many of them abroad, for the summer and ahead of Leaving Cert students sitting their exams, because it is likely that the vast majority of them will be for repeal and it could make the difference in carrying the proposal.

The mobilisation of young people to vote helped pass the referendum on marriage equality in May 2015. They are the first generation of people who will be directly affected, one way of the other, by the outcome of the referendum on the repeal of the 8th amendment, so from that point of view, it is vital that they get their say on the matter, along of course with everyone else in the country entitled to vote.

We hope that people won’t be put off exercising their franchise in the referendum by histrionic arguments and stunts by either side of the debate. People arguing for or against in public fora need to be allowed make their views known and argue them cogently, and not be shouted down by those who disagree with them.

It is incumbent on all involved in what is likely to be an intense debate to respect the right of others to differ with their views.

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