Monday, April 19, 2010

Irish Independent: Promise to rewrite Constitution will reignite debate on abortion

By Fionnan Sheahan Political Editor
Monday April 19 2010

LABOUR Party leader Eamon Gilmore will re-open the divisive abortion debate through his promise to rewrite the Constitution if he gets into power.

Aside from abortion, Mr Gilmore's constitutional reform plan would also open up a host of contentious issues like the recognition of God, property rights, the definition of the family, gay marriage and the EU.

Any changes to the Constitution would have to be ratified by a referendum.

Following on from Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny's political reform proposals, such as scrapping the Seanad, Mr Gilmore said he also wanted to see institutional changes -- but didn't say what they should be.

In his keynote address to his party conference, he announced his intention to "develop a new constitution" -- eclipsing even former Fine Gael leader Garret Fitzgerald's 'constitutional crusade' in the early 1980s.

"It is time, in my view, for a fundamental review of our Constitution," he said.

"There is much about it that has served us well, but it is a document written in the 1930s for the 1930s," he said.

"A time when one church was considered to have a special position and women were considered to be second-class citizens.

"And if we are to truly learn from the experience of the last 10 years, then we need to look again, in a considered way, at the fundamental rules that bind us together."

Mr Gilmore said the Constitution would be rewritten by a convention, including experts, specialists and ordinary citizens randomly chosen in the same way as juries.

"Let us set ourselves the target to have it ready for the 100th anniversary of the 1916 rising, that seminal moment when our State was conceived," he said.

Labour has a long-standing policy on abortion, dating back to 2003, committed to bringing forward legislation to allow abortions in a number of circumstances.

The party policy is to support abortions where there is a risk to the life or health of the mother, or where there is a foetal abnormality that means the foetus would be stillborn.

This policy follows a vote at the Labour conference in 2001 to support a woman's right to choose on the issue, which was carried against the wishes of the party leadership.

In government, he said his party would set up a dedicated jobs fund, a strategic investment bank and a department for public sector reform.