Reference to ‘Catholic country’ was not in any draft inquest statement

Acknowledgment of remark by midwife manager came on Wednesday

Ann Maria Burke: the draft statement submitted by the midwife manager makes no reference to her making the remark, The Irish Times understands.  Photograph: Eric Luke

Ann Maria Burke: the draft statement submitted by the midwife manager makes no reference to her making the remark, The Irish Times understands. Photograph: Eric Luke

 


None of the statements made by staff at Galway University Hospital to the inquest into Savita Halappanavar’s death contains an admission that she was refused a termination “because Ireland is a Catholic country”.

The draft statement submitted by midwife manager Ann Maria Burke makes no reference to her making the remark, The Irish Times understands.

Ms Burke, when called to give evidence to the inquest on Wednesday, acknowledged that she had made the remark but said it wasn’t intended to be hurtful. She expressed regret for her words and said it arose during a “chat” with Ms Halappanavar rather than in a medical context.

Ms Halappanavar’s husband Praveen claims her consultant, Dr Katherine Astbury, made the same remark to the couple. However Dr Astbury, while accepting that she refused the request for a termination because there was a foetal heartbeat and Ms Halappanavar’s life was not then at risk, denies saying the words.

Coroner Dr Ciaran Mac Loughlin made the decision to call Ms Burke on Tuesday after hearing evidence from Ms Halappanavar’s friend, Mrudula Vasealli. She said she also witnessed the “Catholic country” remark being made by an as then unidentified midwife.

She provided the inquest with a detailed description of the midwife, whom she described as middle-aged, short-haired and wearing a navy blue uniform.

After this evidence, the coroner asked lawyers for the hospital if the midwife could be identified. Declan Buckley SC said he didn’t think it was possible.

Lawyers for Mr Halappanavar claimed the hospital had refused to provide them with the staff roster, but Mr Buckley said it wasn’t appropriate to do so at an inquest.

Pressed by Dr Mac Loughlin, Mr Buckley told the coroner that large numbers of nurses were on duty at the time. However, Ms Vasealli’s description of a woman dressed in blue seemed to fit the clinical midwife manager, Ms Burke, and his “best guess” was that she was the person. At this point, Dr Mac Loughlin instructed that she be added to the witness list.

Later that day, Mr Buckley indicated that Ms Burke had provided only a draft statement to the inquest and he didn’t know whether she would stand over it.

Mr Halappanavar said yesterday he forgave Ms Burke for what she said, and he said he continued to believe Dr Astbury made a similar remark.