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Report of the Expert Group on the Judgment in the A, B and C v. Ireland Case: Statements (Resumed) (Continued)

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 785 No. 3

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  5 o’clock

(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Billy Kelleher: Information on Billy Kelleher Zoom on Billy Kelleher] Clearly, this point will be the difficulty for both this Parliament and the Government when bringing forward options that are recommended in this report. I listened to the debate last April, as well as a number of weeks ago when Deputy Clare Daly reintroduced her Bill and indeed during this discussion, and this clearly is the issue.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Michael Kitt Zoom on Michael Kitt One minute remains to the Deputy.

Deputy Billy Kelleher: Information on Billy Kelleher Zoom on Billy Kelleher I am trying to make the point as clearly as possible, if it is possible to state it clearly, that until such time as a decision is made on the broader issues, Members should not make it more convoluted by talking about issues for which they simply cannot legislate, even if people wished to so do, because the Constitution is quite clear, as is the interpretation in the X case judgment. Moreover, the cases that were taken to the European Court of Human Rights also vindicate that position regarding the interpretation of the X case and Article 40.3.3°. However, one interesting case, which has not been discussed, is the D case. Perhaps it should have been included in the terms of reference for the report under discussion but I believe it will engender further discussion in this debate. In the meantime however, Members should be responsive to the actual needs that are being called for and respectful of the fact that many people, both within and beyond this Chamber, have different and opposing views.

In this context, whatever position a person may have, I ask that the language be tempered. Many thousands of Irish women have gone and continue to go abroad and Members should be highly conscious of this when they speak on the issue of abortion. They should be conscious of this because they are our sisters, mothers, daughters and neighbours and one must be conscious of the use of language that is inflammatory, hurtful and destructive even if people hold strong views on the issue. While I can respect those views, people should be conscious of that. I also note that people on the other side sometimes have used highly intimidatory tactics but the Chamber itself should be a venue in which Members are allowed to reflect on and discuss this issue, while coming forward with proposals that can bring clarity to meet the needs of both the European Court of Human Rights judgment and the medical professionals who deal with the issue every day of the week.

Finally, it is of equal importance that the word goes out that Ireland has the best maternity services in the world, bar none, and it is very important that people have full confidence in that. I still believe there is a need for an independent inquiry into the death of Savita Halappanavar in Galway to satisfy her family and the broader public and to find out precisely what happened, why it happened and to ensure it will never happen again. In the meantime, people should not use these tragic circumstances to advance either side of the argument.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Michael Kitt Zoom on Michael Kitt I call on Deputy Tom Hayes and then Deputy Twomey, who have 15 minutes between them.

Deputy Tom Hayes: Information on Tom Hayes Zoom on Tom Hayes I am glad to have the opportunity to say a few words in this important discussion that allows Members to make a statement prior to the Government's decision in respect of the recommendations by the expert group. Members must be humane and open-minded with regard to their views and those of the public. Consensus is the element I believe Members must strive to achieve and if that takes longer then the time laid out by the Minister, then so be it. Time should not be an inhibiting factor in letting everyone get across their viewpoint in an open and honest way.

  When dealing with what is an important and difficult subject, more time should be given, if necessary. As the Leas-Cheann Comhairle is aware, the issue is complex with medical, legal and ethical dimensions. It is extremely difficult to deal with all the issues involved and this is the reason I consider it to be important to provide time and space to allow for an informed debate on the matter. It is not helpful to have a discussion based on presumptions and the issue of presumptions relating to the area of suicide must be dealt with. I recognise the Minister for Health, Deputy Reilly, is a medical doctor of great experience. Members are fortunate to have a medical doctor dealing with this serious issue, with which I find it highly sensitive to deal and on which there are strongly-held views on opposing sides of the debate. I also recognise the Oireachtas cannot ignore its responsibility and that women and medical professionals in Ireland are entitled to legal clarity. Many people in the medical profession have told me in the past that they need legal clarity and they are entitled to that. Consequently, it is the duty of Members in the Oireachtas to provide such clarity as we live in an age in which litigation is widespread and is sometimes the order of the day. There may be a temptation on the part of the Government to shy away from controversial issues, which is understandable as it is impossible to meet everyone's expectations. However, this debate is not about populism or about pleasing people but pertains to recognising the duty of the Oireachtas to provide legal clarity.

  I welcome the Government's commitment to allow Members to make statements no matter what their perspective and to set forward their views in an open and transparent manner. Many Members of this House have strong feelings in this regard and consider themselves to have a clear view. My views at all times have been anti-abortion. I am not in favour of a free-for-all or liberal abortion regime in our society and I hold this up as a principled stand I wish to declare and take on this issue. All Members have been forced to examine their views in recent times due to the tragic situation of Ms Savita Halappanavar in Galway and the publication of the report of the expert group on the judgment in the A, B and C v. Ireland case. The stark reality is that Ireland is in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights. While there are those who will state we are not compelled to legislate, I believe we must deal with the issue, due to the extraordinary level of public concern in respect of these issues.

  I have confidence that my party colleagues in Cabinet, and indeed those of the Labour Party, will listen to the views of Members when coming to a decision regarding the expert group report. The Taoiseach and Deputy Reilly both have made it clear to Members that they will not allow for a liberal abortion regime in Ireland. I do not want a liberal abortion regime and that is a principled position I always have held. More importantly, I do not believe the people of Ireland want it either. I want to protect the life of a pregnant woman where life is threatened by the pregnancy and that is the issue here. This is about the health of a woman and that is the priority. While that may be a straightforward wish, I recognise there are legal and medical complexities involved in giving effect to it. I am neither a medical nor a legal expert but I am a legislator and believe I must face up to my responsibility in dealing with the report before the House. The Government has both the time and the access to national and international expertise to frame appropriate measures. The Medical Council guidelines must be adhered to and medical and legal experts must be involved. Members can work their way around to a position in which they can deal with this issue. They must do the right thing for the women of Ireland. Abortion on demand should not be allowed in this country. However, the life of the mother must be protected in all cases. I wish the Government well in this regard and I thank it for giving Members the opportunity to have this discussion. I again appeal to all sides in the House to try to achieve a consensus view based on the best medical practice and protecting the life of the mother and child. I am assured by what the Taoiseach has said on the matter and am confident the decisions the Cabinet ultimately will take will reflect the views of both the House and the vast majority of the people of Ireland.

Deputy Liam Twomey: Information on Liam Twomey Zoom on Liam Twomey I had reason to be in the Four Courts this morning and while there, I listened to the President of the High Court and another High Court judge, Mr. Justice Gerard Hogan, who were debating points of law on the issue of assisted suicide.

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