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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 Paschal Donohoe: Information on Paschal Donohoe Zoom on Paschal Donohoe] In 1992 and again in 2002, people voted against measures that were designed to exclude suicide as a ground for lawful termination. Everything that has occurred since is defined by the contours of these decisions.

Two other points must also be made regarding the role of European institutions in this deeply sensitive matter. First, in July 2006, the European Court of Human Rights rejected an application from a woman referred to as "D" on the grounds that Irish courts offered sufficient remedy and procedure for deciding on her application. The court recognised that Irish institutions provide the first and proper public space within which decisions are to be made. Second, it should be noted that the decision made in December 2010, again by the European Court of Human Rights, was in respect of compliance with decisions made by Irish people and institutions.

The expert group report states that "the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms is an international agreement which Ireland has signed and ratified and which is consequently legally binding upon Ireland". However, in accepting this we must acknowledge that what is required of us is coherence between our laws and courts. No one is seeking to foist a decision upon us. What we are required to do is be consistent with decisions we took in the past. What we cannot do is second guess those decisions. The right to decide the interpretation of law is not open to everyone. If that were the case, it would instigate the gradual but inevitable erosion of the foundations of legitimacy and authority upon which the State and institutions, including the Oireachtas, depend. This competence is, therefore, exclusively reserved for our courts and if we disagree with an interpretation of the courts, it is open to us to change the constitutional framework within which they make such interpretations. This has not occurred.

Having made forays into the world of the abstract, the world of our laws and institutions and a world in which women are referred to as initials, let me address the handful of tragedies to which we are seeking to respond. In a case where the life of a mother is threatened, the State has two responsibilities, namely, to do everything possible to keep mother and child safe and alive and to ensure that those medically involved in any such dilemma are protected by the law when they stay within the law. By omission, I cannot accept that when the life of a mother is threatened the State should make a decision for her or reduce the choices open to her. It should be recalled that in such circumstances, the life of a woman, who could be a neighbour, friend or someone we have not met, is at risk. In the solitude conferred by the horror of such a choice the State should not be present beyond meeting the two responsibilities I have outlined.

I am against the introduction of abortion for social or economic reasons. What we must do is clarify our law as it stands. Having had the honour of seeing my own children brought into this world, I will not yield to anyone in my recognition of the rights and lives of the unborn and born. Perhaps because of this experience I am also deeply aware that the law is not always successful in governing by absolutes. We all live our lives in the space between absolutes. Sometimes we are aware of the right thing but on other occasions we fumble forwards and hopefully do the right thing. Our fragility and vulnerability to chance and events beyond our control defines our humanity.

For these reasons, I believe the option of advancing legislation or regulation to deal with the consequences of the X case should be pursued by the Government in a careful and deliberative manner. We must be particularly careful on the issue of mental health and risk of suicide. We must also remember that threats to mental health already cause deaths at substantial cost to society. This issue is not about changing the law but about making it clearer for those who depend upon the law for their lives or exercise duties upon which the most vulnerable depend.

This will be a difficult debate. I have already been the victim of comment and behaviour that gives me a taste of what is to come. Francis Bacon once made the following observation: "It is as hard and severe a thing to be a true politician as to be truly moral." I have certainly felt this when considering this issue.

The separation of powers is sacred to our Republic. While the courts cannot make Parliament act, the Oireachtas is obliged to consider the views expressed by the courts. In giving such consideration, we must recognise our obligation to support a woman in circumstances where her life is threatened but we must not make a decision for her.

Deputy Anthony Lawlor: Information on Anthony Lawlor Zoom on Anthony Lawlor I thank the members of the expert group which drafted the report on the judgment in the A, B, and C v. Ireland case. The report has been eagerly awaited by members of the public and I am pleased the Government will decide before Christmas which of the options it will pursue. This issue has been ongoing for too long and it is important that the Legislature makes a decision on it.

  It is important to note that this debate is solely on the report of the expert group. Bearing this in mind, we must be cognisant of the provisions of the Constitution pertaining to the rights of mothers and their babies, the findings of the Supreme Court in the X Case in 1992 and the judgment by the European Court of Human Rights in 2010.

  I do not agree with the labels of "pro-life" and "pro-choice" and they do not have any place in the House. In recent weeks, Ireland has been gripped again by an abortion debate, which was reignited following the tragic death of Savita Halappanavar. The loss of this mother and her child in such circumstances has touched the hearts of everyone in the country. As with every Member of this House, I have been inundated with correspondence from members of the public outlining their views on this matter. What I have found is that many of the issues being raised fall outside the remit of the report and that any action taken by the Government will not impact on the scenarios raised.


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