‘Limited budget’ available for review into Ireland’s abortion laws

Project will involve research into experience of service providers to identify difficulties

Campaigners on  Dublin’s Grafton Street calling for a Yes vote in the 2018 referendum on repealing the Eighth Amendment. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

Campaigners on Dublin’s Grafton Street calling for a Yes vote in the 2018 referendum on repealing the Eighth Amendment. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

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Researchers being asked to examine Ireland’s abortion laws as part of a new review were warned by the Department of Health that only a “very limited budget” would be made available for the project.

The Government has announced that it is appointing barrister Marie O’Shea as the independent chair of an overall review.

While it had been indicated by Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly last December that the position of chair would be the subject of a tendering and procurement process, it has since emerged that instead “a small number of candidates” were “identified as having suitable experience for the position, were contacted and invited to apply for the role of independent chair”, according to a parliamentary answer given to Cork South West TD Michael Collins.

The tender that was issued last December instead will cover independent research into the experiences of service providers such as GPs, medical practitioners, medical colleges and the HSE.

Potential tenderers were told in the documents “that the maximum available budget is €60,000” and that “the Department of Health has a very limited budget available for this project” and would be looking for value for money.

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Once appointed, that research team will eventually present their findings to Ms O’Shea. According to tendering documentation, this team will “identify any difficulties” in providing services and highlight possible solutions, for example approaches taken in other countries.

Changes to legislation

They are also being asked to “explore and weigh the evidence for and against” any proposed changes to the legislation.

There have been calls from some politicians and campaigners to scrap the three-day wait that a woman must complete before getting access to medication.

A second strand of the review will look at the experience of the women seeking termination services.

Trinity College associate professor Dr Catherine Conlon is carrying out a large study to analyse unplanned pregnancy and abortion care. This will “generate an in-depth understanding of the experiences of women who have accessed abortion care services since the commencement of the Act,” the Department of Health said on Wednesday.

The study will also be examined by the chair, alongside the results of an ongoing public consultation – the final strand of the review.

The terms of reference for the chair state that Ms O’Shea must “assess the extent to which the objectives of the Act have been achieved” but also “assess the extent to which the Act’s objectives have not been achieved and make recommendations to address the barriers, if any, uncovered in that regard”.

Government sources say the final report from Ms O’Shea is expected in late summer or autumn.