Report 'tallies with Labour view'

Mon, Nov 26, 2012, 00:00

Minister for Communications Pat Rabbitte has said the report of the expert group on abortion tallies with the position held by the Labour Party for many years.

Labour will this week press for an early Cabinet commitment to legislate for limited abortion amid party concerns about Minister for Health James Reilly’s ability to implement a new legal framework.

Mr Rabbitte said introducing legislation for limited abortion was “the safe way forward” and legislating for the sensitive issue should not be avoided by politicians.

The expert group on abortion’s report will be brought to Cabinet tomorrow. It says legislation consistent with the Supreme Court ruling on the X case is required and this should be followed by ministerial regulations.

“The long-standing position of the Labour Party indeed ever since the X case and the Supreme Court remarks in respect of same is that legislation will prove to be necessary,” Mr Rabbitte said today.

“And I think it’s the case isn’t it that the expert group recommends that legislation is the safe way forward, perhaps requiring some finessing by way of regulation thereafter, but that primary legislation will be necessary and I think that has been the Labour position.”

Mr Rabbitte said he was “encouraged” by statements he had heard from deputies across the political divide about the issue recently. The Government will have the opportunity for the first time tomorrow to discuss the report of the expert group, he said.

“It seems to me that there isn’t any point in bringing together a number of eminent people under the chairmanship of Mr Justice Sean Ryan to produce a report unless you’re minded to act on its conclusions.

“It’s a very sensitive issue but it’s an issue I believe the Government has to address. Previous Governments have failed to address it and we know that it’s a very serious issue that ought not to be avoided by the legislators.”

Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin yesterday said the Government would act “speedily” and insisted the Coalition would not be the seventh administration to fail to act on the 1992 judgment.

An early statement of intent by Cabinet this week would provide cover for Labour backbenchers who will come under pressure to vote for former Socialist TD Clare Daly’s revamped abortion Bill on Wednesday night.

A group of Fine Gael TDs opposed to what they regard as “liberalisation” of abortion laws is expected to lobby Dr Reilly with their concerns about cases involving threatened suicide. Cork deputy Jim Daly said he “would be concerned that that might lead to abortion on demand”.

There is widespread disgruntlement among Fine Gael TDs that the expert group’s report was leaked to media outlets before they saw it. Party chairman Charlie Flanagan said: “I find it very regrettable that the report has been leaked ... and the public representatives haven’t seen it yet.”

In addition, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin and Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald called for Dr Reilly’s resignation over the weekend after The Irish Times disclosed that two locations in Dr Reilly’s North Dublin constituency were added to a list of places chosen for primary care centres the evening before the Government announcement.

There is also some doubt within Labour on Dr Reilly’s ability to steer legislation for limited abortion through the Oireachtas. However, Mr Howlin said he “absolutely” supported his Cabinet colleague, whom he said had one of the most difficult jobs in public life.

Mr Howlin said on RTÉ’s This Week he hoped a “calm, considered, comprehensive” debate would begin in the Dáil this week, “and very speedily thereafter the Government will come to its own decisions in terms of drafting legislation and presenting that to the Oireachtas”.

The expert group’s report says women who have been refused abortions should have access to an appeals process to seek a review. Particular centres where terminations can take place should be specified.

The group of medical and legal experts favour setting out the provision of abortion in primary legislation, with related operational matters delegated to the Minister to govern through regulations.

Abortions could take place only when a risk to the life of the mother could be averted by terminating a pregnancy.

The report was commissioned before the death of Savita Halappanavar in University Hospital Galway in October. Ms Halappanavar’s husband, Praveen, has said doctors refused a termination when she was miscarrying because a foetal heartbeat was still present.

Labour Senator Ivana Bacik said: “It will be difficult to oppose Clare Daly’s Bill without some statement of intent to legislate.”

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