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

Friday, 7 December 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 785 No. 4

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Finian McGrath: Information on Finian McGrath Zoom on Finian McGrath] Countries like Nicaragua and El Salvador have amended their already restrictive laws to prohibit abortion entirely. This is what is going in the world.

  I am still going through the report but my initial gut reaction is for the option on page 49, section 7.4.3, which is legislation plus regulations. It is important to look at the advantages of this. According to the report, the Oireachtas would have the opportunity to discuss and vote on all relevant details of the proposed legislation and access to lawful termination of pregnancy would be put on a statutory and thus more secure footing. The report argues that such legislation would update the 1861 Act and arguably provide better protection for the unborn than is currently provided by the Act and that the chilling effect of the Act would be removed and legal protection from prosecution would be attained by compliance with the proposed legislation. It argues that the role of the Minister would come under less scrutiny in respect of procedural matters as these would be in the legislation and that the regulations could be amended relatively easily in order to address changes in clinical practice, scientific advances and challenges arising from their implementation. It argues that legislation plus regulations would be likely to satisfy the requirements of the implementation process of the European Court of Human Rights judgment in the A, B, and C v. Ireland case. This is the position regarding option four in the report. It is very important that we look seriously at this option as one of the possible solutions.

  I thank and commend the expert group for the magnificent work it has done in respect of this issue. It went away and did a considerable amount of work on it and I note that of the 14 people in the expert group under the chairmanship of Justice Sean Ryan, nine were women. This is something that has not been heard over the past number of weeks in the broader debate. There has been considerable misinformation about the expert group. It has done an excellent job and come back to us with different options. It is now up to us as legislators to get on and make the decisions.

  Another issue that has arisen in this debate and has been touched on in respect of the Savita Halappanavar case is that of the Coroners Act. I raised this issue recently in the Dáil with the Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence to see if the legislation needs updating. The Minister told me the Coroners Bill 2007 is before the Seanad, having been restored to the Order Paper on his initiative. He told me the Bill is being reviewed by his Department with a view, among other matters, to making it as cost-effective as possible. The Bill, as published, provides for the comprehensive reform of the existing legislation and structures relating to coroners and provides for the establishment of a new coroners service. I raise this issue because it is also connected with the tragedy we saw in Galway.

  To conclude, I commend my colleagues for the reasonable and balanced debate that has been held. I urge the Government and the major political parties to give people the option of a vote of conscience in respect of any further debates, particularly when legislation comes before the House. The world will not end if we respect difference and diversity. I want to live in a republic that is inclusive and pluralist and that respects all religions, faiths and ethical and moral values. What a boring place this country would be if we all had the same values and beliefs, particularly in respect of this issue. While I am talking about religion, I must say that the attacks on Alliance Party public representatives and sectarian attacks in recent days in Northern Ireland have been appalling. It is important that we also speak out on that issue.

Deputy Brian Hayes: Information on Brian Hayes Zoom on Brian Hayes Hear, hear.

Deputy Finian McGrath: Information on Finian McGrath Zoom on Finian McGrath When we discuss this issue, it is important that we look at the different options. We have heard from the expert group which has provided us with excellent information for which I commended it earlier. The expert group gave us different options and following this debate during which everyone was given a fair amount of time and where every view was respected and listened to, it is time for legislators to deal with it. I am leaning towards option four in the expert group's report. We need legislation and strong regulations to provide clarity for the citizens of this State and the medical profession and in order to do our best to save the lives of mothers, children and citizens of this State.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Bernard J. Durkan): Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan Deputy Farrell proposes to share time with Deputy Pat Breen. Is that agreed? Agreed.

Deputy Alan Farrell: Information on Alan Farrell Zoom on Alan Farrell I echo the sentiments of many of my colleagues who have spoken on this issue over the past number of days or hours and indeed in the debate over the previous two Private Members' Bills. Although these Bills were insufficient to deal with this issue, nonetheless we are discussing it in a broad sense. I would like to state initially that I am unapologetically pro-life but I also respect the law and the sentiments of the Irish people in the 1983 amendment to the Constitution and the X case judgment in 1992. What the Irish people want and what the Supreme Court ruled upon 20 years ago are clear and unambiguous. I do not think the opinions of people have changed that much although if one was to believe the recent polls, 85% of people want clarity on legislation relating to the X case and the C case that went to the European Court of Human Rights, upon whose judgment this debate is based.

The report of the expert group was predicated on the programme for Government and the decision of the European Court of Human Rights and not the tragic loss of life in Galway. Some have suggested that the timing is a bit peculiar in that the report happened to coincide with the release of information about the tragic death in Galway but nonetheless, here we are. It is timely for us to be having this debate some 20 months into the term of office of this Government. I have no doubt that both society and the medical profession require confidence, clarity and certainty as to what qualifies for a medical termination when the life, as opposed to health, of a woman is at risk. In providing that certainty, clarity and confidence to young women right across this State and particularly in Galway, it is very important that if legislation is chosen, we get it right.

I echo the sentiments of Deputy Creed in respect of the chronology the Government proposes to use in respect of this issue. It is better for us to have a wide-ranging debate in this House and the Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children followed by a decision by the Cabinet. We should get all interested parties to take part in that debate. It is not something on which I have stayed quiet. I articulated this point on a number of occasions. Although I changed my view on that a week ago, I have since reverted to the view echoed by a number of my colleagues on both sides of this House that we should have a very thorough and open debate with society in general on this issue. That can only occur if we invite interested groups to take part in a debate before the Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children.

No doubt both sides of this issue have very firm views, so much so that we have all received hundreds of telephone calls, postcards and e-mails. Indeed some of us have even been subjected to some pretty horrific photographs like the one I received this morning which was disguised as a Christmas card. My secretary opened it and I was also subjected to it.

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