Gloom as long avoided issue an issue again
Dáil Sketch:These are grim days in Leinster House.
The economic storm clouds continue to be dark and threatening in advance of next month’s draconian budget.
Yesterday, as fiscal issues hovered in the background, the mood darkened further with the ongoing debate on Savita Halappanavar’s tragic death and her husband’s publicly expressed grief.
TDs privately reported an upsurge in emails and messages to their offices, mainly calling for action to protect the lives of pregnant women.
They left Leinster House for their constituencies last night, anticipating a strong reaction from both sides of the abortion debate at their clinics this weekend.
Some of the new TDs privately expressed astonishment that the issue had been sidestepped by successive governments for two decades.
That long goodbye to reality was highlighted by Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald. “This is probably the only jurisdiction on earth where urgency is defined by a delay of 20 years.’’ And she placed the blame firmly at the door of the national parliament.
“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.’’
McDonald referred to “the seventh government that has not yet introduced the legislation to give effect to the Supreme Court judgment’’.
Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore refused to be drawn on what specific action the “seventh government” would take. Stressing the Government awaited reports on the Galway tragedy, and needed to consider the expert group’s report on abortion, he referred on a number of occasions to the need to introduce “legal clarity’’. He said Taoiseach Enda Kenny and himself would receive the report later in the day.
Gilmore said the issues to be dealt with centred on “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’’.
McDonald stressed that legislation was required and she pressed the Tánaiste to say when it would be introduced. No longer, she said, could anyone elected to the Dáil, or in the Government, hide behind the failures of others or reports or inquiries.
Gilmore, a long-time advocate of abortion legislation, appeared shaken and angry. “My position on the issue is known for a very long time. I am on public record for more than 25 years as to how this issue should be dealt with.’’ It had “not always been a popular position or one that has commanded support across all parties in this House’’. He said he had been deeply disturbed by what Savita’s husband had said.
Fianna Fáil’s Niall Collins referred to the divisive nature of the abortion issue. “Debates will, unfortunately, be heated, personal and, at times, irrational.’’ He appealed for an “open, sensible and mature’’ discussion on the expert group’s report.
Joe Higgins of the Socialist Party remarked: “There is powerful prima facie evidence that the ethos of one church in this State was applied in order to deny Savita Halappanavar a life-saving medical termination in respect of an unviable pregnancy.’’ Gilmore advised: “Members should not jump to conclusions about either what happened or what was the motivation of those involved until the investigation is concluded.’’
Up to this week, TDs believed there was little prospect of anything surfacing to take from the exclusive focus on the economy. Now they know better. There are testing times ahead.