'Legal confusion' over abortion law - Shatter

X-case legislation should be reviewed but not 'sunset clause' - Minister says

Minister for Justice Alan Shatter has said there was ’legal confusion’ in the Savita Halappanavar case.

Minister for Justice Alan Shatter has said there was ’legal confusion’ in the Savita Halappanavar case.


Minister for Justice Alan Shatter has said there was “legal confusion” over abortion law, as shown by the Savita Halappanavar case.

“ In the tragic case presently being dealt with in the Coroner’s Court in Galway we have seen the type of difficulties that can arise when there is legal confusion”, Mr Shatter said when asked about the abortion legislation being prepared to give effect to the X-case. “I think it’s been a difficult and confused area for too long,” he told RTÉ.

The inquest into the death of the Ms Halappanavar at Galway University Hospital will continue this week.

Last week, the consultant obstetrician who treated Ms Halappanavar told the inquest that she refused her request for a termination because of “the legal position in Ireland”.

However, a day later, when she formed the view that there was a “real and substantial risk” to Ms Halappanavar’s life, Dr Katherine Astbury resolved to go ahead with a termination even though a foetal heartbeat was still present, the inquest heard last week.

Asked about the issue of a sunset clause, which some Fine Gael TDs want to be inserted into X-case legislation, Mr Shatter said it was sensible that any legislation on the matter should be “reviewed at some stage” but was not sure if it was appropriate to refer to it as a “sunset clause” .

“A sunset clause means after a specified period of time legislation lapses, I don’t think that’s what my Fine Gael colleagues are suggesting,” he said.

Mr Shatter said a review may of the legislation may be necessary no matter what Bill Minister for Health Dr James Reilly publishes. This was a “very sensitive area” and there were issues that Dr Reilly could not address, such as “as the position that arises when there is a fatal foetal abnormality”.

It emerged yesterday that Cork North West TD Michael Creed had asked Taoiseach Enda Kenny to insert a clause in the legislation to examine the impact of the law at a later date. This would facilitate a review of the legislation if it was deemed to have opened the way for a large number of abortions. Such an initiative is seen by some as a way to keep party dissenters in line.

The idea of a sunset clause was dismissed today by Labour TD Aodhán Ó’Ríordáin who said it “made no sense”. This was a “constitutional matter” due to the Supreme Court X -Case judgement and any sort of sunset clause would be “unconstitutional” because the legislature cannot step outside the Supreme Court’s constitutional provisions, he said. “The idea that what we are trying to legislate for would lead to a more liberal abortion regime would not be possible because it wouldn’t be constitutional,” he told RTÉ.

However Fine Gael TD for Cork South West Jim Daly said he supported a sunset claus review “to avoid the law of unintended consequences”. He told RTÉ that people had a “genuinely held fear” that new legislation could lead to the “liberalisation of abortion” in Ireland and they would “take comfort” from any mechanism.

The Pro-Life Campaign said today that including a sunset clause in the legislation would ”do nothing to allay concerns” of anti-abortion groups. “I don’t for a minute doubt the sincerity of those putting forward the proposal,” campaign spokeswoman Cora Sherlock said in a statement. The idea “ at least, demonstrates the level of concern within Fine Gael that any legislation no matter how restrictive will be abused,” she added. However “if such legislation were passed, there would be no going back and sunset clauses or reviews of the legislation would do nothing to alter that,” she said.