Houses of the Oireachtas

All parliamentary debates are now being published on our new website. The publication of debates on this website will cease in December 2018.

Go to

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

First Page Previous Page Page of 80 Next Page Last Page

(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Kevin Humphreys: Information on Kevin Humphreys Zoom on Kevin Humphreys] There is no appetite to revisit this matter time and again. We must deal with the X case, but that is only the beginning and the Dáil must take a further step and address other issues, for example, rape, incest etc. I thank the Acting Chairman for allowing me time.

Deputy Dominic Hannigan: Information on Dominic Hannigan Zoom on Dominic Hannigan I am glad to be able to contribute on this debate. It has been 30 years since I first spoke publicly about this issue. In the early 1980s, a campaign was under way to introduce a constitutional ban on abortion. Some wanted the amendment inserted into the Constitution because of their concern that we could otherwise have seen a decision similar to that in the Roe v. Wade case in the US in the early 1970s. I was on the students union of UCD at the time and a motion was placed on the agenda asking that the union affiliate with the anti-amendment campaign. I remember the strength of the debate and the intensity of feelings across the campus and in the lecture theatres. I also remember the discussions in the bars and the churches of our home towns. Everyone got involved in the debate and contributed a viewpoint. It was an intensive campaign and some of the arguments and tactics used were shocking. Like my colleague, Deputy Kevin Humphreys, it educated many of us on the problems facing half of our society.

  It is shocking that so little has changed in 30 years. Despite a number of amendments to the Constitution, there is still uncertainty about the rights of a pregnant woman in Ireland. There has been no legislation on the back of any of the amendments and individual tragedies have since occurred.

  I have received hundreds of e-mails since the publication of the expert group report. I have probably received more e-mails about this issue from constituents than I have received about any other issue in my time as a public representative, which goes back eight years. Those constituents are concerned that a failure to legislate and to give clear guidance to doctors on terminations has led to an inequality in medicine. Medical professionals are also concerned. I have seen them on television and heard them on radio expressing their concerns that the lack of legal clarity on this issue has led to certain treatment options for sick women being ignored. We need to ensure that we remove this lack of clarity. We must give legal clarity to the medical profession so as to remove the grey areas.

  The Labour Party has campaigned on this issue for many a year - decades, in fact. It was in our manifesto last year and the agreed programme for Government is clear on the issue. The latter reads: "We will establish an expert group to address this issue, drawing on appropriate medical and legal expertise with a view to making recommendations to Government on how this matter should be properly addressed." The expert group report has been completed and we have sent our action list to the European Court of Human Rights.

  As Deputies have stated, this is a polarising issue. I have not just received communications from one side of the debate. I have also received communications from the other side. Opinions on both sides are undoubtedly well held. As such, it is important that we approach this issue with the sensitivity it deserves. However, it is 20 years since the X case and the Dáil has still not acted despite the fact that the Supreme Court laid out exactly what we should do. We cannot ignore a Supreme Court decision. That is not debatable. The House has been spineless on this issue for far too long.

  The expert group report provides us with options and it is clear that we need to act. The report cannot be left to gather dust. We were elected to deal with a range of issues facing the Ireland of today. Some of those issues are economic and some are social. I am clear on the fact that this is an issue that I was elected to address. The Cabinet is discussing what we should do. I wish to add my voice to those of my colleagues - this situation has gone on for far too long and we need legislation now.

Deputy James Bannon: Information on James Bannon Zoom on James Bannon In order to discuss this report and its ramifications, we must focus on the findings of the expert group and their implications for the issue of abortion legislation. However, given the tragic circumstances of Savita Halappanavar's death in Galway in late October and the efforts of both sides - the pro and anti-abortion lobbies - it is impossible not to include it in any discussion of A, B and C v. Ireland and the report before us.

  That this sad occurrence is now an integral discussion point associated with the findings of the report is a testament to the power of the media and indicative of an exercise in opportunism, shamefully focused on the death of Savita. I would like to take this opportunity to extend my heartfelt sympathy to her husband and family. While I cannot adequately express my horror at the sad death of Savita, I have had a sense of disquiet from the moment her situation was highlighted. The timing of the release of the information regarding her circumstances on the morning after the report under discussion was given to the Minister for Health was questionable to say the least. I am sure that it was no coincidence that, although she died on 28 October, her death was not extensively reported until the day after this report was delivered to the Minister. The circumstances of her death have been shamefully used as a justification mechanism by both the pro and anti-abortion lobbies.

  One could perhaps call the revelations about Savita's death coincidental, but the resultant media outbursts and overwrought reactions seem too opportunistic for that. From being a weapon to try to force the Government's hand, I hope that calm will prevail and that this report will be assessed and viewed in an independent light. However, I am anxious that any legislation should not be rushed through in a knee-jerk reaction to the report, the death of Savita and the other matters that are impacting on it.

  Having had major reservations about the timing of the news of Savita's death, the publication of which came as a shock and surprise to her family, the fact that there is now a question mark over some of the reporting of the facts of the case only serves to add credence to the opportunism of the exposure of this tragic death. I am shocked to read that the sequence of events may have been at least muddled but, at worst, distorted. That what was reported or not reported, whatever way one looks at it, prompted a recent independent inquiry into the death of Savita, was inexcusable.

  Despite the worldwide reporting to the contrary, Ireland is not in the dark ages medically. I have always been of the opinion that judgment should be reserved until the independent reports into Savita's death have been published. Medical opinion at the highest level is divided on this case, but only an in-depth investigation or investigations will give all of the facts. That people with little or no medical background are rushing to judgment and being listened to is extraordinary.

  While it could be said that discussing the circumstances of Savita's situation is to diverge from the matters concerning us vis-à-vis this report, timing and media intervention have made it part and parcel of any discussion on abortion or abortion-related topics. The most important aspect of the current report is that it shows the need to bring clarity for the health of the women of Ireland and those treating them. It should not be regarded as an invitation for the pro and anti sides of the abortion debate to stir up that debate in a manner that is designed to cloud the issues as presented by the report.

Last Updated: 06/05/2020 11:52:07 First Page Previous Page Page of 80 Next Page Last Page