Irish Prime Minister confronted by students wearing pro-abortion T-shirts during Brexit speech

Campaigners spoke out after Leo Varadkar addressed an audience in Queen's University, Belfast

Jeff Farrell
Friday 04 August 2017 16:32
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Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar (bottom L) walks away from women wearing 'repeal' T-shirts after his speech
Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar (bottom L) walks away from women wearing 'repeal' T-shirts after his speech

Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar will consider holding the so-called abortion referendum in Ireland outside the summer months after student pro-choice campaigners protested over its timing.

The Taoiseach has said in recent weeks that the Irish government was planning on holding the controversial vote over the Eighth Amendment in May or June next year or later in 2018.

But a student equality group, wearing jumpers with the slogan “Repeal”, challenged him on the proposed dates after he gave a landmark Brexit speech in Queen's University, Belfast.

They pointed out that many students would be away travelling or working abroad in the summer months and would not be able to have their say if the referendum was held in June.

Mr Varadkar said: “I definitely take the point and get the message that young people would like to have a referendum at a time that they are in the country so they can fully participate. So we will absolutely take that into account in setting a date.”

Rachel Powell, vice president for equality and diversity officer with Queens’ Students Union, challenged the Taoiseach over the dates for the referendum which he said could be in May or June.

She told The Independent: “Many students would be away on J1 visas (working in the U.S) and travelling and wouldn’t be able to vote.

“I said to him: ‘The referendum on the 8th amendment is especially pertinent for students North and South of the border.

“As we all know, a high percentage of students travel or work abroad over the summer. Do you agree with us that in order to fully engage students, this referendum should be held outside of the summer months?”

She added: “The Taoiseach said he would take that into consideration and we will be holding him to account on that.”

Another of the student campaigners at Mr Varadkar's speech, Lucy Gault‏, posted a photo on Twitter of her and her fellow students wearing their “Repeal” jumpers at the event.

She wrote: “Absolutely amazing to be with my team and send this clear, strong message #RepealThe8th.”

The Irish PM has pledged to hold the referendum on changes to the Eight Amendment in the Republic – a controversial issue in the country that previous leaders have avoided addressing.

The ballot will give voters there the chance to shoot down that article in Ireland’s constitution that allows for the equal right to life to the mother and the unborn – which effectively outlaws abortion.

A repeal would allow for terminations in cases of rape, incest or if any foetal problems were found.

Mr Varadkar himself is due to campaign himself tomorrow in Northern Ireland when he takes part in the Belfast Gay Pride breakfast to “press for marriage equality across Ireland”.

The Irish PM, who is the Republic’s first openly gay leader, took to the streets in Dublin in June 2015 after voters legalised same-sex marriage in a referendum.

The Democratic Unionist Party in Northern Ireland has blocked any changes to the ban on gay marriage and instead promotes the “traditional” view of a marriage between a man and woman.

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