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Leaders' Questions (Continued)

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 802 No. 1

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(Speaker Continuing)

[The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny] The intention is to strengthen the community mental health teams. Some will be used for advancing further suicide prevention initiatives and to initiate the provision of psychological and counselling services in the primary care area, specifically for people with mental health problems. Most of the recommendations in Reach Out, the national strategy for action on suicide prevention, 2005 to 2014, have been implemented such as delivering a general population approach to mental health promotion and suicide prevention, using targeted programmes at those who might be in a high-risk category, delivering services to those who have inflicted self-harm and providing support to families and communities bereaved by suicide.

The annual budget for suicide prevention increased in 2012 to €12 million. Of this, €7.1 million was administered by the National Office for Suicide Prevention. The remaining €5 million was available regionally to fund resource officers for suicide prevention and self-harm liaison nurses in accident and emergency departments. A further €1 million was made available for additional mental health funding, bringing the total to €8.1 million, which includes a special programme of measures. I will have these figures forwarded to Deputies.

Deputy John Halligan: Information on John Halligan Zoom on John Halligan I commend the Taoiseach on bringing forward the protection of life during pregnancy Bill. It cannot have been an easy task for him, given all the divisions and tensions within the coalition. It has taken some determination on his part to finally start tackling this highly charged and emotive issue, one where four taoisigh before him have failed.

However, the draft Bill provides little reassurance for rape and incest pregnancies or for those women carrying a foetus with fatal foetal abnormalities, such pregnancies that have the potential to destroy the lives of those women who face them. Startling figures were released last week that showed sexual offences rose 50% between 2007 and 2011 but only one in six cases resulting in charges being brought. The media has rightly highlighted several cases recently where a man convicted of sexually assaulting a woman avoided a custodial sentence because he paid her a sum of money. This draft Bill proposed by the Government, however, carries the potential of 14 years imprisonment for a woman, pregnant as a result of rape, who might attempt to have an abortion in Ireland. Does the Taoiseach not think this is warped justice?

The Taoiseach might not be aware of this but 17 women who became pregnant after being raped had abortions last year. Incidents of rape are on the increase and it must be acknowledged only a small number of rapes are reported. However, instead of supporting women who become pregnant as a result of being violated, the Government proposes to penalise them.

The pro-life argument centres on the right to life of the foetus. A woman also has a right not to be raped. If her right is violated and she becomes pregnant as a result, I believe she has a right to end that pregnancy at her discretion. I defy any Member to look a pregnant rape victim in the eye or a woman carrying a baby that is certain to die and tell her that we are more entitled than she is to control her body. We cannot continue to brush these cases under the carpet and pretend they are not happening.

Will the Taoiseach give support to a constitutional referendum to allow for abortion in cases of rape or fatal foetal abnormalities? I am calling on the Taoiseach to let the people, not party politics, to decide this issue.

Deputy Finian McGrath: Information on Finian McGrath Zoom on Finian McGrath Hear, hear.

The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny I assure Deputy Halligan that I have absolutely no intention of playing any party politics with a matter as sensitive as this.

Deputy John Halligan: Information on John Halligan Zoom on John Halligan I never said the Taoiseach did.

The Taoiseach: Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny The Deputy should understand that the heads of the Bill approved by the Government last week will be sent to the Oireachtas health committee for hearings to be conducted under the chairmanship of Deputy Buttimer. The Bill is not drafted yet. The Government approved the heads of a Bill and has sent it to the Oireachtas committee at which a discussion will take place on them. After the committee holds its hearings, it will send the heads back to the Government and the Bill will then be drafted and the process of putting it through the Oireachtas - Second, Committee, Report and Final Stages - will then follow.

When Deputy Halligan speaks of warped justice, the Oireachtas has no input in the decisions made by the courts which are completely independent in the way they do their work and the decisions at which they arrive. While people might have a view of the decisions taken by the courts, that is the courts’ independent decision.

We are confined here in what we are doing by the Constitution and, within the Constitution, the law as determined by the Supreme Court. It is within these confines that the heads of this Bill have been approved by the Government and will follow through the process.

This does not involve anything extraneous like what the Deputy mentioned in terms of foetal abnormalities, rape, incest or whatever. The Deputy must remember that the people voted on this in the past. They made their intentions very clear in that the right to travel was given specifically to women. While people may have different views on this, the fact of the matter is that a woman in this Republic can only have access to a termination where there is a real and substantial threat to her life. Within that definition of the threat to her life is the Supreme Court determination of the right to life of the unborn. The circumstances in which this arises are emergency medical risk and the risk from suicidal intent which is a very different issue from suicide ideation.

The Government is focused on dealing with what it has to deal with within the Constitution and within the law. There is no change nor will there be any change in the work that is going on here to that. I hope that clarifies the position for the Deputy.

Deputy John Halligan: Information on John Halligan Zoom on John Halligan I want to be very blunt without being offensive. I do not know if the Taoiseach has ever spoken to a woman who has been raped. I have several years ago. She spoke to me about how she felt after being violated, how she was continually showering and washing herself internally. It is inhuman and deeply offensive to tell a woman who has been violated and raped that she must present herself as being suicidal before she can have an abortion in Ireland. With all due respect, the Taoiseach’s answers are those which would have been given 20 or 30 years ago. This is 2013, a year in which hundreds of women are raped and violated.

I am sorry for being blunt but if it were the Taoiseach’s daughter or mother or if it were my daughter, mother or granddaughter who was raped and violated and became pregnant as a result, would we expect her to present herself as being suicidal in order for her to have a termination of her pregnancy? Worse still, would the Taoiseach expect a woman who has been violated to go through nine months of that pregnancy? Then she would probably become suicidal.

I ask everybody to reflect on this. I am not into derogatory remarks or being sensationalist about this particular Bill. This is an important issue as there is a section of women in society who every year are violated.

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