Dáil resumes: Abortion, refugees and assisted dying likely to lead political agenda

New political term and a new Taoiseach: here are the key issues to look out for as the Dáil returns on Wednesday

The Dáil returns on Wednesday following the Christmas recess and the changeover in the Taoiseach’s office, with Leo Varadkar now leading the Coalition.

Climate change and health will be two of the big topics this week, with statements on the Climate Action Plan and a Sinn Féin motion on capacity in the health service scheduled for the House.

Here are five other political issues to look out for this year:


Towards the end of this month, a major piece of Trinity College Dublin research will be completed and it will, in turn, pave the way for the finalisation of a much-anticipated review of the State’s abortion laws.


Barrister Marie O’Shea, who is chairing the review, is awaiting the research on conscientious objection before she submits her work to Government. Some political sources speculate that she may recommend a less restrictive regime, which could include a recommendation to remove the three-day waiting period for people seeking to terminate a pregnancy.

The truth, however, is no one knows what she will recommend, the Government included. Once submitted, the review will be considered by Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly and then the Cabinet. There will likely then be a Dáil debate, which could yet prove to be contentious.

Green Party

One of the unexpected political events of last year was a Coalition row over proposals to ban the sale of turf.

The proposals from Minister for the Environment Eamon Ryan led to strong opposition from rural TDs in Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael and caused one of the biggest divisions within the Government since a row over the EU-Canada (Ceta) trade agreement at the end of 2020.

While concessions were made in that instance, it seems inevitable that the Greens will remain on a collision course with their Coalition partners with some tricky measures coming down the tracks.

An implementation strategy for the Climate Action Plan is due, and there may be trouble ahead also in the debate around the funding of roads versus public transport. Whether the differences become irreconcilable or not remains to be seen.

More referenda

Although they are expensive to run – not to mention important for a government to get right – a number of referenda are on the cards for this year and next.

Firstly, the Commission on Housing is expected to recommend that a referendum on a right to housing be held later this year. Commission members are understood to be close to submitting a proposed wording for the referendum. They will give their suggestion to Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien in a matter of weeks, and he will then update the Cabinet and public on what is being proposed. If the wording is accepted by the Government, the vote could take place as soon as September.

There is also a push from the Opposition benches, particularly Labour, for a referendum to remove the “women in the home” clause from the Constitution. Tánaiste Micheál Martin said last year that he would like that referendum to be held this year, although he did warn that it should not be rushed.

There has also been talk of a referendum on extending the right to vote in presidential elections to Irish citizens abroad, but this is likely to be next year or beyond. Plans for that potential vote are likely to be discussed with diaspora groups at a civic forum in Dublin this year.

Refugee crisis

Minister of State for Integration Joe O’Brien said at the weekend that the Government should prepare for the same number of Ukraine war refugees to arrive this year as last, some 70,000.

He made the remarks a few days after the Taoiseach told reporters that the State cannot guarantee accommodation for all those who come to Ireland. The scramble to find spaces for those fleeing the war has gotten increasingly difficult, so there is a major question around how the State could accommodate such numbers. A large number of hotels have indicated that they will revert to tourism this spring and the Coalition is only too aware of the rising tensions around the issue of refugees in communities around the country. This year could the topic of immigration becoming a major feature in Irish politics.

Assisted dying

A special Dáil committee is to be convened to examine the issue, with meetings to take place throughout the year. Death is a sensitive subject, particularly in this context, and one that the political system has been slow to address previously.

The committee is to consider the issue and make recommendations for legislative and/or policy changes in relation to a statutory right to assist a person to end their life, and a statutory right to receive such assistance. The terms of reference have been agreed and nine TDs and five Senators are to be selected to sit on the committee.

The topic garnered political momentum previously after a Bill from Solidarity TD Gino Kenny, which sought to allow for the provision of assisted dying to those suffering from a terminal illness with the aim of allowing them to have a dignified and peaceful death.