Higgins defends Savita comments

Fri, Nov 23, 2012, 00:00

THE PRESIDENT:President Michael D Higgins has defended his call for proper medical treatment for pregnant women in the Savita Halappanavar tragedy, despite criticisms that he had acted outside of his powers.

He believed his intervention, made in Liverpool on Wednesday, was “very close” to Irish public opinion, adding that his contribution had been “very straightforward”.

Saying that he knew “what the president does”, Mr Higgins said he also knew “what the public might correctly expect from their President” during such a tragedy.

On Wednesday, Mr Higgins said he hoped “above all else” that the investigation into Ms Halappanavar’s death would ensure that pregnant women got all of the treatment that they need.

“I said it was a very great tragedy, a young woman,” he told The Irish Times yesterday. “I expressed my sympathy to her husband and her extended family and I was joining the thousands of Irish people in the streets saying the same thing.

“I said it is very important that the investigation be such that it satisfies the genuine concern of the Irish people, that meets in some way – in some small way – in reducing the grief of Savita’s husband and her family and then that meets the needs of the State’s responsibilities.”

Rejected views

He rejected views expressed by some, including Fine Gael TD James Bannon – and privately by figures in Government – that he had interfered in issues which were the Government’s responsibility.

“ I can assure you as a political scientist for nearly 40 years, I am very well aware of not only the constitutional limits of president but also, what the people might correctly expect from their president.”

Interfering in the responsibilities of government “is not my business”, he said during a visit to the Irish Centre in Liverpool. “I did say it should be aimed at ensuring the safety of the health of women and I think, surely, that is the greatest consideration.”

The first inquiries he had received from journalists had centred on the damage it had done to Ireland’s image internationally.

“To be frank, I am far more concerned about the correct response to the correct anxieties that the Irish public have and their anxiety as well that women’s health should be adequately provided for in the future.”

In the Dáil yesterday, Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton said: “I’ve read and heard the comments . . . and I want to say they are considerate, thoughtful, reflective and humane.”