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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 Patrick Nulty: Information on Patrick Nulty Zoom on Patrick Nulty] It did not consider the interference with the rights of applicants A and B that the court also found. The court held that it was for the Government to decide how to address the situation of these two women, and women in similar situations, and that it was a case of what the Government must now do. There is nothing to stop the Government from going further than the expert group’s recommendations or reconvening the expert group to continue its excellent work and consider the future of the debate in Ireland when we, hopefully, legislate shortly for the limited terms of the Supreme Court judgment on the X case.

We know that at least 4,000 women travel to Britain each year for terminations. The figure does not include those who do not give Irish addresses or those who travel to countries such as Spain or the Netherlands. These are women from all walks of life and each has her reasons and story. Women’s experiences of abortion are diverse and complex and the decision to have an abortion is not one any woman takes lightly. Women’s reasons for choosing abortion, such as financial worries, concern about the well-being of other children, diagnosis of serious foetal abnormality, pre-existing health problems, including mental health, and relationship issues, can be extremely stressful. As a male Deputy, I am conscious I will never be faced with the difficult decision women must make. For those inside or outside the House to imply the decision is taken lightly is, at best, misinformed. For these women, the need to travel abroad involves unnecessary hardship and, in many cases, a huge financial burden.

For any progress to be made, the Constitution must be addressed. To hold a third referendum to attempt to exclude the threat of suicide from the right to termination of pregnancy in Article 40.3.3° would be a farce but a referendum to remove or amend Article 40.3.3° would allow Ireland to progress and to bring its laws into line with the highest standards of human rights and the best medical care, similar to that of our European neighbours. A good start would be to legislate for the X case and I know the Minister of State will make every effort to ensure it happens.

Deputy Billy Timmins: Information on Billy Timmins Zoom on Billy Timmins I acknowledge the recognition by Deputy Nulty of the various strands of opinion in this debate and how it should be held in a sensible and humane manner. No one has a monopoly on concern for the life and health of women and the unborn. This debate has the potential to bring out the worst in us. Many people who purport to have an intellect can let their individual prejudice cut across a reasonable view. I do not like using the term pro-life or pro-choice. I have received many e-mails from, let us say, people who want to legislate for the X case and beyond. If I was to produce them, many of the 500 e-mails may amount to cyberbullying in the current climate. Politicians on all sides of the argument are subject to e-mails that have no place in a democratic society. Perhaps we should reproduce some so the public can see what a small minority on either side thinks.

  I also have a document I am sure other Members received from Family Life:

There will be a massive and sustained programme of actions, some of which will be directed towards securing a referendum to remove the intended legislation, as well as those who support it. It is worth noting that in the 10 years since the 2002 referendum all those TDs who campaigned against that amendment have lost their seats.

I am not beholden to any group. I will listen to every group's views and these will be an influence but not a deciding factor. Most politicians legislate for the common good and what they believe is the right thing to do in the best interests of society. Many aspects inform their opinions, including personal views, the people they meet and experts in the area. There is not much expertise in this area from the medical profession in the House.

  I refer to the case of Savita Halappanavar. Some 300 or 400 people who sent e-mails to me seem to know the details of how she died. I am not sure what happened in this sad and tragic case and my sympathies go to her family and her husband as they go through extreme difficulties. Some people dispute the figures on maternal mortality. Be that as it may, Ireland is one of the safest places in the world for a woman to go through pregnancy and have a child. The statistical information is one maternal fatality in 17,800 while the rate is one in 4,700 in Britain and one in 6,600 in France. While one can dispute the accuracy of the figures on the basis of the criteria used to establish them, it is important to acknowledge that our medical profession does an excellent job. It is unfair to send a message around the globe that Ireland is an unsafe place for pregnant women. It is one of the safest places in the world. I hope the independent inquest under the remit of the HSE and the HIQA report are published and brought into the public domain as soon as possible.

  Speaking previously on the issue, I mentioned the sad and tragic death of Tania McCabe. An excellent report carried out by the HSE found she died from sepsis linked with haemorrhaging. Not many women die from sepsis during childbirth. In England, between 2006 and 2008, some 13 women died from the condition. One death is too many but it is important to acknowledge the HSE carried out the report without much controversy and did a good job.

  The claim has been made that we are 20 years waiting to deal with this issue and that political cowardice is the reason behind it. I do not agree. In the period 1992 to 2002, efforts were made to bring some clarity to the issue. Despite two referendums, it was no clearer in 2003 than in 1992. It has been stagnant for the past ten years and part of it is due to the inability to find a solution in addition to the old Irish adage of leaving well enough alone. A hard and tragic case came up and now causes difficulty.

  I cannot recall the Institute of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists or the Medical Council asking for clarity on the issue. Whether we legislate or do something else, there will always be a grey area. We will not be able to legislate to remove the grey area.

  Regarding the report of the expert group, I refer to the commitment in the programme for Government:

We 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. 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.

This is a fair commitment in the programme for Government. It was not the same as the Fine Gael commitment before the election or a commitment to legislate for the X case, as per the Labour Party. Many of the promises made by parties prior to the election were superseded by the programme for Government. Some of the commitments in the programme for Government will not be adhered to. I am concerned that, when the terms of reference were drawn up for the expert group, the decision was made there and then. On 29 November 2011, a decision was made at Cabinet that we would go from A to B, without recourse to the House or the parliamentary parties that make up the Government. We always decry the irrelevance of the House and this is a case in which the House has been made irrelevant. We are debating an issue but the decision has been made and the only question is how we will go from A to B. Should we go via C, via D or both? The Minister read the terms of reference into the record.


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