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Coveney wants a "two thirds majority lock" on abortion legislation; How does it work?

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  • 27-03-2018 10:16am
    #1
    Registered Users Posts: 17,797 ✭✭✭✭


    Coveney had said he'd like a "two-thirds majority lock" on the legislation governing Ireland's abortion rules post-repeal. This would mean that the legislation would require a two-thirds majority in order to be amended - the articles aren't clear, but I presume this either means a two-thirds majority of both houses combined, or a two-thirds majority in each house individually (so two-thirds of the Dáil and two-thirds of the Seanad) to vote in favour of any future amendments to the legislation.

    What I'm wondering is, where is there provision for a "lock" such as this applying to a piece of legislation? Does the constitution cover this? Oireachtas procedures or standing orders? Or does it merely mean inserting a line into the legislation itself which will require a two-thirds majority to change it in future? It strikes me that if it's the latter, is that not a very weak "lock" - given that presumably a future piece of legislation could pass with a simple majority and be written so as to "supersede" the previous act, as happens all the times with various legislative areas and bills? Would such a lock merely included in the legislation itself legally bind a future Oireachtas to observing the rule - in other words, can an ordinary piece of legislation, not backed up by the constitution or any of the Oireachtas standing orders, actually change, even on a once-off basis, the rules of the Oireachtas when dealing with any piece of legislation into the future? I would have thought that the functioning Oireachtas was basically ring-fenced against significant political rule-making of this kind without a constitutional amendment or amendment to the Oireachtas rules themselves - such that if there is no constitutional or procedural provision for something like a two-thirds majority lock, including a line in the legislation itself requiring two thirds to amend it is basically incredibly easy for a simple majority to find a way to overturn in the future.

    Does anyone know how this all works, and if there's anything definitive or iron clad to define a sitting Oireachtas's right to pass laws requiring special voting arrangements to change in the future - in such a way as a future Oireachtas cannot simply bypass such voting arrangements by introducing a new piece of legislation to supersede the previous one?

    I've never heard of this being a feature of the Irish system before, so I'm curious as to whether there's a clear answer.

    https://www.rte.ie/news/2018/0327/950308-draft_abortion_bill/

    Tánaiste Simon Coveney will call at Cabinet this morning for the inclusion of a two-third majority lock in the bill on the law that would be enacted if the Eighth Amendment is repealed.
    Mr Coveney believes such a mechanism would make it impossible for any one political grouping to change the law in the future as is being claimed by those against repealing Article 40.3.3 of the Constitution.
    A spokesperson for Mr Coveney said the Tánaiste is looking for a two-third majority to be necessary if there was ever any attempt to alter the law in the future.
    "To put that into context, that is more than the combined strength of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil in the current Dáil," the spokesperson added.
    The spokesperson said that the Tánaiste hopes this will go some way towards "countering the reckless claims that our parliament can’t be trusted and to reassure voters that there will be no creeping change over time if they vote repeal".


Comments

  • Registered Users Posts: 8,817 ✭✭✭blackwhite


    From how I understand it, the only way it would work would be to have provision for the “super-majority” made in the constitution (as is the case for provisions around impeaching the president)

    Why Coveney didn’t propose this before the vote on wording for the referendum is more than a bit puzzling :confused:


  • Registered Users Posts: 26,511 ✭✭✭✭Peregrinus


    Yeah. I can't see any way it could be done in a bullet-proof fashion without a constitutional amendment.

    As for why Coveney only raises it now, when there is no prospect of having included in the amendment, I cannot avoid the unworthy suspicion that he does this not because he actually wants there to be a two-thirds majority lock on the abortion legislation, but because he wants to be seen to want a two-thirds majority lock on the legislation.


  • Technology & Internet Moderators Posts: 28,803 Mod ✭✭✭✭oscarBravo


    I'm fairly sure it's a basic tenet of a parliamentary democracy that no parliament can bind its successors - the only thing that can bind a parliament is the Constitution.

    I'm genuinely puzzled about Coveney's remarks, because (a) I don't think they're possible to implement, and (b) the whole "let's prevent future elected governments from implementing the will of the electorate" thing is fundamentally anti-democratic.


  • Registered Users Posts: 26,511 ✭✭✭✭Peregrinus


    oscarBravo wrote: »
    I'm fairly sure it's a basic tenet of a parliamentary democracy that no parliament can bind its successors - the only thing that can bind a parliament is the Constitution.

    I'm genuinely puzzled about Coveney's remarks, because (a) I don't think they're possible to implement, and (b) the whole "let's prevent future elected governments from implementing the will of the electorate" thing is fundamentally anti-democratic.
    What he could be trying to do is to pre-empt a "no" campaign argument along the following lines: "Even if you think that the government's proposed abortion bill is reasonable you should vote 'no', because as sure as eggs is eggs we're embarking on a slippery slope and once you go down this road abortion will become easier and easier".

    Back in the 90s, in the second divorce referendum, they wrote the limits on divorce (minimum duration of marriage, minimum separation period, etc) into the Constitution so as to reassure voters that, yes, they really weren't voting for something that could lead to easy, quickie divorce like those depraved Americans have in Las Vegas. Even with those limitations written into the Constitution, the amendment was only carried by a narrow majority.

    This time around the limitations are not being written in, and undoubtedly that will be a point made by the Retain the 8th campaign. So Coveney's suggestion looks like a pre-emptive attempt to anticipate and rebut this argument. I don't think it's a particularly well-thought-out attempt, but that could be what's going on.


  • Moderators, Politics Moderators, Sports Moderators Posts: 24,269 Mod ✭✭✭✭Chips Lovell


    Isn't going to fly. Almost certainly unconstitutional.

    I suspect Coveney knew as much too, but suggested for appearance's sake.


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  • Registered Users Posts: 17,797 ✭✭✭✭hatrickpatrick


    Varadkar has now publicly told Coveney that it is, indeed, unconstitutional.

    What a silly remark for Coveney to make. I doubt he's too thrilled at getting publicly schooled by his former leadership rival :D

    https://www.irishtimes.com/news/politics/varadkar-rules-out-coveney-s-two-third-majority-plan-on-abortion-1.3441754

    Obviously he's going with the "on the advice of the Attorney General" line to save Coveney some embarrassment, but given the general puzzlement in reaction to the remarks this morning from everyone I've heard discussing them, it seems highly likely that Varadkar didn't need any advice at all to know that this wasn't going to work.

    Unusual for Coveney to put his foot in it like that. Have been pondering for some time if he'd have made a better leader given Varadkar's mishandling of several very high profile issues (probably most significantly the Frances FitzGerald email controversy and the subsequent election cliff we found ourselves on before Christmas) but this would suggest that Coveney, too, has been influenced by the Enda Kenny "talk first, think later" school of communications.

    This Strategic Communications Unit is, all other issues aside, a complete and total waste of money when members of the government themselves are directly spouting nonsense to the press :D:D:D


  • Registered Users Posts: 14,615 ✭✭✭✭J C


    Isn't going to fly. Almost certainly unconstitutional.

    I suspect Coveney knew as much too, but suggested for appearance's sake.
    It's obviously a non-runner ... but it does underscore that the only way to stop potentially unlimited abortion in Ireland is to retain the 8th.

    The Supreme Court has confirmed that the only constitutional right enjoyed by unborn children is the right to life enshrined in the 8th - and unborn children will therefore have no constitutional rights, if the 8th is repealed.

    All this usefully clarifies the stark choice facing the Irish people in the referendum :-

    Vote yes ... and you will have no limit on either the Oireachtas or the Supreme Court, in relation to abortion.

    Vote no ... and the people will remain sovereign in relation to any future 'liberalization' of abortion ... beyond balanced legislation that protects mothers and as far as practicable, their unborn children.

    The proposed new abortion legislation, announced today may never be able to be introduced, if the 8th is repealed and the Dail cannot agree to pass the legislation.
    https://www.independent.ie/irish-news/politics/ff-tds-ready-to-block-new-abortion-laws-36512196.html

    This possibility, if it were to occur, could trigger the Supreme Court into action on a test case ... and the current anti-abortion legislation in The Offenses Against the Person Act, might simply be 'struck down' like happened with 'Roe v Wade' in the USA ... and Regina v Morgentaler in Canada ... with no legislation put in its place.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/R_v_Morgentaler


  • Registered Users Posts: 68,876 ✭✭✭✭FrancieBrady


    A government too afraid of the issue to get it's act together.
    They will lose this referendum. They have handed the initiative and momentum away and it's hard to see them getting it back.

    With the advice available to Coveney on the other end of a phone line, how he didn't figure this one was unconstitutional is beyond me, unless as somebody suggested he wanted to 'look like he wanted a lock'.
    Is the leadership battle still going on?


  • Registered Users Posts: 4,705 ✭✭✭serfboard


    how he didn't figure this one was unconstitutional is beyond me, unless ... he wanted to 'look like he wanted a lock'.
    Years ago I thought Coveney was a bit dim. In recent times I've softened my position and given him the benefit of the doubt.

    This carry-on makes me think I was right all along.


  • Registered Users Posts: 23,528 ✭✭✭✭ted1


    It’s funny as lots of people suggested that it should be a requirement after Brexit was so close , but now they think it’s daft


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  • Registered Users Posts: 27,928 ✭✭✭✭blanch152


    A government too afraid of the issue to get it's act together.
    They will lose this referendum. They have handed the initiative and momentum away and it's hard to see them getting it back.

    Hope you give them credit if it passes, or is it one of those situations where it's Leo;s fault if it fails but nothing to do with Leo if it passes.


  • Registered Users Posts: 68,876 ✭✭✭✭FrancieBrady


    blanch152 wrote: »
    Hope you give them credit if it passes, or is it one of those situations where it's Leo;s fault if it fails but nothing to do with Leo if it passes.

    It is as I suspected it was.

    At the minute it won't pass because of the government, (who demonstrated today they are a mess on the issue at the highest level of the party.)

    It will pass because of activists on the ground who are informed and up to speed on the issue and not conflicted by saving their seats.

    Government was a joke today and tomorrow will be no better by the looks of it.


  • Registered Users Posts: 14,615 ✭✭✭✭J C


    blanch152 wrote: »
    Hope you give them credit if it passes, or is it one of those situations where it's Leo;s fault if it fails but nothing to do with Leo if it passes.
    The referendum is far too serious an issue to be some kind of beauty contest on Leo ... and I think that he would agree.

    We, as a society, are making a life and death decision here ... and one that has very serious and far-reaching implications, whatever the result.

    The people are sovereign in this ... and I trust the common sense of the Irish people on this issue.

    Pregnant mothers need to be re-assured that their welfare will be properly looked after and equally, any unnecessary killing of unborn children needs to be avoided.
    This is the balance that people like Simon Coveney are trying to strike ... but it is increasingly obvious that this balance cannot be struck, with the current proposals to repeal the 8th and introduce abortion on demand up to 12 weeks ... and for stated reasons up to delivery.


  • Registered Users Posts: 14,615 ✭✭✭✭J C


    It will pass because of activists on the ground who are informed and up to speed on the issue and not conflicted by saving their seats.
    What about activists who are conflicted by their conscience on the issue?
    Will they turn out to promote something they fundamentally disagree with?


  • Registered Users Posts: 68,876 ✭✭✭✭FrancieBrady


    J C wrote: »
    What about activists who are conflicted by their conscience on the issue?
    Will they turn out to promote something they fundamentally disagree with?

    The referendum should not be about abortion which happens and will continue to happen in this country.

    The referendum is about choice. On that there should be no conflict in a modern democracy.


  • Registered Users Posts: 14,615 ✭✭✭✭J C


    The referendum should not be about abortion which happens and will continue to happen in this country.

    The referendum is about choice. On that there should be no conflict in a modern democracy.
    The referendum is about removing the only protection in the constitution for the lives of unborn children. It is therefore about allowing the direct killing of such children by abortion, even when they represent no threat to either the life or the health of their mothers.

    Legislation routinely removes the choice to do things which potentially or actually harm others. Why should abortion, which causes the actual death of tiny vulnerable Human Beings be any exception?

    The argument that abortion happens and will continue to happen is a bit like arguing that drink driving happens and will continue to happen i.e. it's an invalid argument for allowing such behavior.

    The fact that Simon Coveney wants a legislative lock (which won't work) to prevent potential future legislative excesses ... is a very good reason to retain the existing legislative lock (which is working) ... and reckoned to have saved about 250,000 Irish unborn children's lives, since the 8th was introduced in 1983.


  • Registered Users Posts: 68,876 ✭✭✭✭FrancieBrady


    J C wrote: »
    The referendum is about removing the only protection in the constitution for the lives of unborn children. It is therefore about allowing the direct killing of such children by abortion, even when they represent no threat to either the life or the health of their mothers.

    Legislation routinely removes the choice to do things which potentially or actually harm others. Why should abortion, which causes the actual death of tiny vulnerable Human Beings be any exception?

    The argument that abortion happens and will continue to happen is a bit like arguing that drink driving happens and will continue to happen i.e. it's an invalid argument for allowing such behavior.

    The fact that Simon Coveney wants a legislative lock (which won't work) to prevent potential future legislative excesses ... is a very good reason to retain the existing legislative lock (which is working) ... and reckoned to have saved about 250,000 Irish unborn children's lives, since the 8th was introduced in 1983.

    Sorry, 'The referendum is about removing the only protection in the constitution for the lives of unborn children in our health system.

    It DOES not, protect anyone except those who wish to pretend we live in a society without abortion. Abortion happens in this country anyway.

    This is about legislation for choice and I am not going to get drawn into a debate on abortion itself.


  • Registered Users Posts: 14,615 ✭✭✭✭J C


    Sorry, 'The referendum is about removing the only protection in the constitution for the lives of unborn children in our health system.
    The referendum is about removing the only protection in the constitution for the lives of unborn children in our country.
    It DOES not, protect anyone except those who wish to pretend we live in a society without abortion. Abortion happens in this country anyway.
    We do live in a country without legal abortion ... except where a mothers life is in danger. if we didn't live in such a country, there wouldn't be a referendum being held to repeal the 8th, with the specified intent of introducing abortion on demand up to 12 weeks and up to delivery for stated reasons.
    This is about legislation for choice and I am not going to get drawn into a debate on abortion itself.
    Its clearly about legislating for abortion ... and that is why people like Simon Coveney find themselves so deeply conflicted on the issue. This isn't some kind of legitimate commercial choice between product A and product B that we are talking about ... it's a matter of life and death, for unborn babies.
    Why are you so insistent on using the euphemism of 'choice' ... when it is clearly abortion that the 'two thirds majority lock' is being proposed to 'reign in' ... and not some kind of consumer 'choice' between brand A and B?
    'Choice' may sound better than 'abortion' ... but using the word 'choice' doesn't make what we are all talking about any less deadly to unborn children - or any more acceptable to the public.

    The fact that Simon Coveney wants a legislative lock (which won't work) to prevent potential future legislative excesses on abortion ... is a very good reason to retain the existing legislative lock of the 8th (which is working) ... at least, until something better for both mother and child is proposed.


  • Moderators, Politics Moderators, Sports Moderators Posts: 24,269 Mod ✭✭✭✭Chips Lovell


    J C wrote: »
    It's obviously a non-runner ... but it does underscore that the only way to stop potentially unlimited abortion in Ireland is to retain the 8th.

    The Supreme Court has confirmed that the only constitutional right enjoyed by unborn children is the right to life enshrined in the 8th - and unborn children will therefore have no constitutional rights, if the 8th is repealed.

    Yes, but if that's your position, Coveney's proposal is entirely academic, because you'd probably be voting to retain the Eighth Amendment even if it was feasible.


  • Registered Users Posts: 17,797 ✭✭✭✭hatrickpatrick


    Ah lads, can we keep the general abortion stuff in the of the other bajillion threads about it? This is more a political maneuvering thread :D


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  • Registered Users Posts: 15,632 ✭✭✭✭Beechwoodspark


    I think he’s made a bit of a fool of himself in this. Not the first time he’s flip flopped on issues.

    Apparently at cabinet yest he was very sheepish and kept his head down while others there ridiculed his idea for the 2/3 majority.


  • Registered Users Posts: 15,632 ✭✭✭✭Beechwoodspark


    I think he’s made a bit of a fool of himself in this. Not the first time he’s flip flopped on issues.

    Apparently at cabinet yest he was very sheepish and kept his head down while others there ridiculed his idea for the 2/3 majority.


  • Moderators, Sports Moderators Posts: 26,902 Mod ✭✭✭✭Podge_irl


    Ah lads, can we keep the general abortion stuff in the of the other bajillion threads about it? This is more a political maneuvering thread :D

    Really, really awful political manoeuvring.

    This whole affair does not reflect well on Coveney.


  • Registered Users Posts: 45,481 ✭✭✭✭Bobeagleburger


    Makes Coveney looks pretty silly tbh.


  • Registered Users Posts: 6,276 ✭✭✭emo72


    clucking bell, whats he saying now about scans? its on the front page of the times. hes really making himself look like a clown now. pick a side mate. and we will respect your convictions. but this? "im against it ****, but maybe if we can bring in these mad rules that would be grand". NO ITS BULLCRAP! pick a side dude.


  • Registered Users Posts: 6,276 ✭✭✭emo72


    [QUOTE=J C;106570105
    I simply don't accept that any woman would be so callous as to not be affected by aborting her unborn child.
    Like you have said earlier, abortion is not something which is done lightly, by anybody.[/QUOTE]

    i 100% agree with you. its nothing something any woman takes lightly. they probably carry it on their conscience for the rest of their lives. but yet it happens every day. its horrible but its a fact of life. it actually is happening right now and its a huge burden for any woman to carry. but carry it they will.

    simon coveney on the other hand (this is politics thread after all) hes just trying to make himself look good to you. yeah he has a conscience, who doesnt mate? but hes looking after his own best interest. let him resign the whip if he really gives a feck. conscience? pull the other one, hes a politician for FG


  • Registered Users Posts: 14,615 ✭✭✭✭J C


    emo72 wrote: »
    simon coveney on the other hand (this is politics thread after all) hes just trying to make himself look good to you. yeah he has a conscience, who doesnt mate? but hes looking after his own best interest. let him resign the whip if he really gives a feck. conscience? pull the other one, hes a politician for FG
    You guys need to 'cut Simon some slack' ... he is your best bet for having this thing passed.

    ... if he fails to put an effective 'backstop' in place, it will definitely be lost.


  • Moderators, Politics Moderators, Sports Moderators Posts: 24,269 Mod ✭✭✭✭Chips Lovell


    I've moved a heap of posts over the the general discussion thread about the referendum. Lets keep this thread to Simon Coveney's proposal about two third lock.

    Thanks


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