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

Monday, 17 December 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 787 No. 2

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Derek Nolan: Information on Derek Nolan Zoom on Derek Nolan] It refers to mental or physical abnormalities or serious disabilities. As none of those scenarios would happen in Ireland, where a constitutional protection is in place on the life of the unborn, this again is a complete red herring.

The fourth argument one hears, which is technical in nature, is that the Supreme Court did not hear medical evidence when it was making its decision. This goes back to the idea that the judgment was flawed. However, the Supreme Court never hears evidence. It is an appellate court that hears appeals from the High Court, which hears evidence. Moreover, in the instance of the X case, the risk of suicide was accepted by both sides and therefore, it never came into issue.

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for his indulgence and will conclude by noting that I am very aware that as a man, I will never be in this position. However, I do not believe this precludes me from having an opinion on the subject. I like to think that I represent women, that I represent my mother, my sister, my friends, my colleagues and people with whom I work. Members never should forget they are discussing scenarios in which a woman's life is at risk. They are discussing very limited circumstances, as I have outlined on the issue of suicide, in which it may occur. However, the broader issue of the right to life and the clarity for doctors must be clarified. Finally, I note the X case judgment is the law in Ireland and Members must legislate for it because it is the law of Ireland that has been upheld twice by the people in referendums. The grounds to which it refers, that is, a real and substantial risk to the life of the mother, are nothing short of a pro-life position and everyone should be able to subscribe to protecting that and to vindicating that right.

Minister for Children and Youth Affairs (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald): Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald I am pleased to have the opportunity to make a statement on the report of the expert group on the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights in the case of A, B and C v. Ireland. I first wish to put on record my appreciation for the work of the expert group and in particular, that of Mr. Justice Seán Ryan, for the commitment, sensitivity and consideration the group has given to this complex issue. Anyone who wishes to speak on this issue really ought to read the 55 pages in this report for its preface, the summary, the legal provisions, its clarity in respect of the cases that have arisen thus far and its summary of the key principles. It has been done very well.

  The European Court of Human Rights accepted that Article 40.3.3° of the Irish Constitution provides it is lawful to terminate a pregnancy if it is established as a matter of probability that there is a real and substantial risk to the life, as distinct from the health, of the mother, which can only be avoided by a termination of the pregnancy. This remains the constitutional position today, unaltered by the decision of the European Court of Human Rights. The constitutional obligation also on the State is, by its laws, to respect and as far as practicable defend and vindicate the right to life of the unborn and these provisions must of course be borne in mind in the mode of the implementation of the judgment.

  In the A, B and C v. Ireland ruling, the European Court of Human Rights requires us to give practical effect to our constitutional position. The report of the expert group recommends a series of options on how to implement this judgment, taking into account the constitutional, legal, medical and ethical considerations involved in the formulation of public policy, as well as the overriding need for speedy action. The report provides a range of options that must be considered carefully. In theory, Members present today should agree on at least one thing, namely, the Irish Legislature has grievously failed in its duty in respect of abortion. It should be easy to agree on that as a first principle. The European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms is an international agreement that Ireland has signed and ratified and which, in consequence, is legally binding. This duty to comply with the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights is an integral part of the scheme of the convention. Although these Houses have failed to legislate on this issue for more than 20 years, the reality is that over the past two decades, few Deputies or Senators have been idle on the matter or uninterested or without conviction. Members stand today at yet another infinitely painful point in a two-decade sequence of difficult and painful cases, Irish and European case law, reports, Green Papers, deliberations by an Oireachtas constitutional committee and periods of intense public debate.


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