DUBLIN (Reuters) - The Catholic Church in Ireland has reassured followers the European Union’s reform treaty would not sanction abortion but declined to take sides in an increasingly heated campaign ahead of next month’s plebiscite.
“While we do not seek to align ourselves with either side of the referendum debate, we wish to make it clear that a Catholic can, in good conscience, vote Yes or No,” said a statement from the Irish Bishops’ Conference issued late on Monday.
Fears the Lisbon Treaty would open the doors to legalised abortion was one of the reasons Irish voters rejected the charter in a referendum last year but the bishops said such concerns were unfounded.
“The Treaty of Lisbon does not undermine existing legal protections in Ireland for unborn children,” they said in the statement.
Some anti-Lisbon groups have argued that the treaty gives the European Court of Justice the right to rule on abortion in Ireland.
The Irish government has secured pledges from Brussels that it can keep its restrictions on abortion, as well as retain its own commissioner. Dublin is hoping these concessions, along with fears a second ‘No’ would be bad for the economy, will secure a ‘Yes’ vote on October 2.
Opinion polls suggest Ireland will approve the treaty, which is intended to speed up decision-making in the 27-member union, but a significant proportion of the electorate is undecided and officials are worried the government’s deep unpopularity will generate a large protest vote.
An anti-treaty group called Coir or Justice, which has strong links to right-wing anti-abortion group Youth Defence, will launch a poster campaign focussed on the rights of the unborn this week.
Some Irish Catholics remain deeply suspicious of the treaty, a factor which has been stoked by provocative anti-Lisbon adverts placed in one monthly Catholic newspaper.
“Any material which misinforms voters is an interference with the exercise of a fundamental right and has no place in church buildings or grounds,” the bishops said.
Reporting by Carmel Crimmins; editing by Andras Gergely