Cross-party consensus seems to be emerging

Fri, Jan 11, 2013, 00:00

ANALYSIS:The striking thing about the hearings was the emergence of a strong middle ground across all the Dáil parties. Whether that will hold when the legislation and regulations are published remains to be seen – but the omens are good.

Committee chairman Jerry Buttimer deserves a great deal of credit for the way the hearings were conducted. He treated all witnesses with equal courtesy and kept his parliamentary colleagues on a tight leash. It was a model of how Oireachtas committees should do their job.

The committee will draw up a report detailing the thrust of the evidence but the ball is now back in the Government’s court. The next step will be to draft the heads of a Bill giving effect to the X case judgment.

There was near unanimity among medical expert witnesses that the Government’s approach of combining legislation with regulations to give effect to the X case judgment was the correct one.

The point was made most effectively by the master of Holles Street hospital, Rhona Mahony, a mother of four as well as an obstetrician. Barrister and doctor Simon Mills also struck a chord when he spoke of the emerging middle ground among anti- abortion and pro-choice voters.

Churches’ views

Yesterday it was the turn of the churches and advocacy groups. While the exchanges were again polite, there was no unanimity.

The Catholic Church position was outlined by Bishop of Elphin Christopher Jones, who said medical intervention to save the life of a mother was perfectly in accordance with church teaching. – but he argued against legislation to deal with the X case on the basis that it would allow for the direct and intentional killing of the baby in the womb.

If the Government went down the road of legislation this would inevitably lead to abortion. He advocated a referendum to overturn the X case judgment, he said

The other churches and faiths that gave evidence all backed the need for legislation, with varying emphasis on what that should contain.

Church of Ireland Archbishop of Dublin Michael Jackson said his church opposed abortion on principle but acknowledged there were cases of “strict and undeniable medical necessity” where it was and should be an option.

Strong opposition

Anti-abortion campaigners put forward strong opposition to legislation while some pro-choice groups argued for more radical legislation than the Government is planning.

It appears a majority of Fine Gael, Labour, Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin members are broadly in favour of the Government’s approach, although some in Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil have fears about legislating for the suicide option.

It will come down to how many Fine Gael TDs are prepared to vote against their Government. A number of them, including Minister for European Affairs Lucinda Creighton, have expressed concern at legislating for suicide but the evidence from the medical experts and particularly Dr Mahony appears to have reassured most of them.

The same applies in Fianna Fáil. While vocal anti-abortion members, such as Senator Jim Walsh, are unlikely to have been swayed, health spokesman Billy Kelleher has been taking a moderate approach.

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