The chairwoman of the Oireachtas Committee on the Eighth Amendment Catherine Noone has asked two of its members who claimed its proceedings are "entirely skewed and unfair" not to resign their positions.
Tipperary TD Mattie McGrath and Senator Rónán Mullen said on Thursday evening that they want the secretariat of the committee, as well as Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, to review how it operates.
They claim that the majority of witnesses called before the committee are in favour of liberalising Ireland’s abortion regime.
While they said they are considering their position on the committee – which they described as a “farce” – neither would confirm whether or not they will absent themselves from its proceedings until their concerns are addressed.
Mr McGrath and Mr Mullen also said one group, the US-based Center for Reproductive Rights, listed as witnesses, “has been fundraising online in the US in recent weeks to overturn Ireland’s pro-life laws”.
Mr McGrath also claimed they are being sneered at by other members and some committee sources conceded that they had a point on this front.
It is understood Ms Noone has asked some members of the committee to be more “professional” in how they interact with others.
At a press conference outside Leinster House, Mr Mullen read a statement on behalf of himself and Mr McGrath.
“The news that witnesses due before the Joint Oireachtas Committee on the Eighth Amendment are also actively fundraising to change Ireland’s abortion laws shows how skewed in favour of abortion the committee’s work has become,” he said.
“At the beginning of the committee’s work, much was made of the fact that we were going to hear from expert witnesses but not from ‘advocacy groups’. Among the ‘expert witnesses’ whose presence at the committee the taxpayer is funding, we have the New York-based abortion-campaigning group Center for Reproductive Rights, which has been fundraising online in the US in recent weeks to overturn Ireland’s pro-life laws.
“We already had serious concerns about the one-sided nature of the process but this latest revelation takes things to a whole new level.”
The statement added that it is their “honest view that the credibility of the committee cannot be restored owing to how entirely slanted the process has become”.
“We are now actively considering whether there’s any point in our remaining on as members.”
Ms Noone said: “While they were having their press conference, we were getting on with the business of the committee.
“If they have complaints to make about the working of the committee, they should make to them to the committee.”
While she was unhappy the committee had heard about their concerns from the media, she asked both men to stay on.
“They have a very important voice on the committee. They are asking questions that a large portion of the population want asked.”
She also said she would be “delighted” for Mr Mullen and Mr McGrath to invite more witnesses from “their side of the argument”. Ms Noone said there had been no follow-up from Mr McGrath or Mr Mullen on two possible American witnesses they had asked to come before the committee.
Centre for Reproductive Rights
According to financial accounts filed in the United States, the Centre for Reproductive Rights spent $9.1 million on its global legal programme in 2016, and $13m on its US legal programme.
As part of its international programme the centre challenges legal restrictions on abortion services at an international level, in the European Court of Human Rights and at the United Nations Human Rights Committee.
Speaking to The Irish Times, Leah Hoctor, the group’s European director said “the Center for Reproductive Rights is a global organisation that works to advance women’s reproductive health and rights around the world. We fundraise through online and traditional channels like other NGOs.”
Ms Hoctor said previously the centre has represented Irish women Siobhán Whelan and Amanda Mellet in filing complaints to the UN Human Rights Committee claiming Irish restrictions on abortion services violated their human rights, which the committee upheld on both occasions.