Gilmore urges 'legal clarity' on abortion

Fri, Nov 16, 2012, 00:00

Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore has said that “legal clarity’’ must be brought to the abortion issue as quickly as possible.

Mr Gilmore said while the investigations into Savita Halappanavar’s tragic death were awaited, there were issues to be addressed.

“Essentially, they centre on what happens in a set of circumstances where a woman’s life is at risk and medical professionals may not be entirely clear on where the lines of their responsibilities and duties lie.’’

The Tánaiste said Minister for Health Dr James Reilly had said in the Dáil some time ago there had been six governments in the State since the Supreme Court judgment in 1992 and they had not dealt with it. “This will not be the seventh.’’

He said that to address those issues the Government had decided, on its formation, to establish an expert group, chaired by a High Court judge and made up of medical and legal experts, to bring recommendations to Government.

The group had reported and the Taoiseach and himself would receive copies later in the day. The Government would decide if it would be published. “We all need to be clear on this issue. It is 20 years since the Supreme Court made its finding in the X Case.’’

Honest debate

Niall Collins (FF) said it behoved everybody in the House, as parliamentarians and public representatives, to engage in an open and honest debate.

He said there were varying views within all political parties and all sections of society. It was incumbent the Government publish the expert group’s report and have a full and open debate.

Mr Gilmore said he agreed the Dáil should discuss the issue in “a reasoned and informed way’’.

He added that there was a requirement to make a report to the Council of Europe on the issue by the end of the month, which the Government would comply with. “The issue is currently being discussed by the general public in any event,’’ he added.

“The discussion must be a reasoned, reasonable, dignified one, and it must be focused on what it is we need to bring legal clarity to sets of circumstances that have been outstanding for a long period and that are very real.’’

Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald said she was very angry as well as upset and moved by what Ms Salappanavar’s widower had to say. “We have debated these matters for 20 years. This is probably the only jurisdiction on earth where urgency is defined by a delay of 20 years.’’

Ms McDonald said that while the medical detail of the Galway tragedy was needed, she feared that “we will hide behind reports and inquiries and we will kick the issue down the road yet again’’.

She said a report or an inquiry was not needed to tell the House that the medical profession was left in a legal limbo. As a result, women’s health and lives were also left in limbo.

“It would be easy for us to point the finger at the Catholic Church, the medical profession, a particular hospital or the HSE, but the blunt truth is that the limbo exists because this House has failed to legislate.’’

Pressed further by Ms McDonald, the Tánaiste said there was no equivocation, and had never been, on the Government’s part.