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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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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Dara Calleary: Information on Dara Calleary Zoom on Dara Calleary]  We have had a far more respectful debate generally about this report and the options presented in it than we have had for some time on the entire issue of abortion. Space has been given to those with very strong opinions on either side to express them and I hope that continues, especially in this House.

One of my concerns is that we are having this debate on the publication of the report, the Government will come up with recommendations and then go to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health and Children to debate and discuss those recommendations. We would be far better off, however, if this went to the committee first and the various groups, particularly the medical groups, gave their presentations. I look forward to hearing how the Medical Council views this report, along with the other medical groups that are made up of the people we entrust with decisions. I would like to hear them before being presented with the Government's decision.

I have absolute confidence that the Chairman, Vice Chairman and members of that committee will run the hearings in a way that will give us information in a non-partisan and neutral fashion. I need information, I am not a qualified medical practitioner and there are so many areas that confuse me that I still am at a loss how to make a judgment I can be happy with. It would be better if the committee hearings had taken place in a calm manner, with the various groups coming in to discuss this and then we debated what we had heard from those various groups. We could then make a judgment on whatever recommendations came from of this. That said, the hearings in January will be important and the committee must give as much time as possible to the hearings. I get a sense the Government is trying to rush this without proper debate on the report and what follows. There was a sense this could all be done and dusted by February. We must resolve it quickly but if we rush it, we will make bad decisions and end up with bad law. We must be far more careful.

The notion nothing was done for 20 years is wrong. Significant efforts were made to come to a consensus. I cannot allow the record of my late friend and colleague, Brian Lenihan, to be distorted in this regard. He chaired an all-party group in the House and brought recommendations forward. We had a referendum in 2002 and the decision reached in that referendum was not as clear-cut as people have presented it. There were conflicting interest groups campaigning for a "No" vote in that referendum so people voted "No" for very different reasons. Time was lost after the referendum, it was ten years ago, but the political process was so bruised by it that it is not so much there was a lack of courage but a wondering where we would go from there. I am not being smart when I say that, or defensive, but when we look at the amalgam of groups that combined to oppose that referendum, there was a genuine political sense of confusion about what to do. No matter what way the political process had turned, there would have been consequences for all sides, and not just political consequences.

We then had the hearings in the European Court of Human Rights and now we have the report of the expert group. I started by thinking whatever we do, we must respect maternal health. We have a strong record in this country but we cannot take it for granted. There have been three maternal deaths since September. There are three families tonight who were expecting the happiest time of their lives and that has now become a nightmare of proportions we cannot begin to understand. We cannot take the strength of our maternal health care system for granted and we cannot assume it will always be the way. I understand there may be a report that measures maternal safety next year that might not paint as rosy a picture. Whatever decision we reach as a Legislature must be based on our having the maximum possible information and tonight we do not have that. I cannot say with confidence that I can reach a definitive position on the recommendations without seeing that information. It would be a disgrace if we as Oireachtas Members allowed this issue to go beyond this Dáil. We must have it finished by this time next year but we must not rush it if a few weeks in February would allow an informed debate where those of us without a medical background can ask questions that might seem stupid to medics but might help me find some clarity and security on these decisions.

Various claims have been made by both sides. We have had information meetings in this House in the last two days where eminent people directly contradicted each other. I listen to one person and he makes complete sense and then at the next meeting, someone who is equally qualified has the complete opposite view and he makes sense. Rushing this, then, for the sake of a few weeks is a bad idea. We will not do anyone any service if we rush this. We cannot allow it to go beyond next year but we must not put unnecessary deadlines in place because that will not serve the interests of the women or families of this country.

I ask the Government to give the committee time. We respect our committee system and we should give it the support it needs. Whatever resources the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health and Children needs to do this it must be given so it will have the budget for the hearings and legal and medical advice available. This cannot be a normal committee session in the basement of Leinster House 2000 and I hope the Ceann Comhairle would hear the message that those hearings should allow for a specific budget so it can get the sort of advice committee members will need so that advice can, in turn, be made available to us.

Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (Deputy Joe Costello): Information on Joe Costello Zoom on Joe Costello I am delighted to have the opportunity to say a few words on this difficult subject. At the outset, I listened carefully to Deputy Calleary and I respect his views and judgment. He is a serious politician but I disagree with his conclusions. This is not the time to wait for the committee to make a decision. It is a decision the House must make and we must give political direction. The expert group has shown us the options and it is the political direction that is important now. It is still up for the committee to look in detail at how that recommendation we decide upon is to be framed, be it by legislation or otherwise. We can no longer set up committees and say we will not make any decision until it makes its findings.

We have been dealing with this serious issue for 30 years, with reproductive rights for women being the most contentious issue in the history of the State in the last century. The programme for Government we signed up to was categoric that we would acknowledge the recent ruling of the European Court of Human Rights subsequent to the established ruling of the Irish Supreme Court on the X case and that we would establish an expert group to address the issue, drawing on appropriate medical and legal expertise. When we read the report we see the expert group did that with a view to making recommendations to Government on how this matter should be properly addressed.

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