Dáil abortion debate ends abruptly as Government TDs absent when quorum called

McGrath condemns lack of attendance as disgraceful in debate called for 10pm

Mattie McGrath: Independent TD Mattie McGrath called the quorum which requires 10 Deputies to be present.   Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times

Mattie McGrath: Independent TD Mattie McGrath called the quorum which requires 10 Deputies to be present. Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times

 

The Dáil debate on abortion was cut short because not enough Government TDs were present when a quorum was called.

Independent TD Mattie McGrath called the quorum which requires 10 Deputies to be present. He said it was a disgrace that there were so few TDs present in the House for the debate on the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution.

The debate was in its third day with just one hour allowed for speeches, commencing at 10pm on Tuesday. Minister of State for Housing Damian English was one of the only Government representatives present when Mr McGrath called the quorum at 10.53pm. It meant that the debate could not continue without 10 TDs being presented. Ceann Comhairle Sean O Fearghaíl formally adjourned the debate at the designated time of 11pm

Independent TD Danny Healy-Rae said nobody had the right in the world to take a life.

“I believe God only decides when a life should end, and I think it is a good job that that is the way,’’ he added.

He said women with unplanned pregnancies should have access to all medical help, counselling and financial support.

“If they cannot manage, there are plenty couples out there who would adopt and cherish a little baby boy or girl if they got the chance to do so,’’ Mr Healy-Rae added.

Supporting repeal

He said women who went for abortions were never the same again.

Green Party leader Eamon Ryan said there were different views in his party over the years. “It is a complex and highly important issue,’’ he added.

He said the party’s view had changed some years ago, when the young Green Party said it had to.

He said while he supported repeal, he had good friends on the other side of the debate.

“I agree with them . . . life does start at conception,’’ he added.

“I don’t see any other way you can assess it.’’

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He said he believed that what was tried in 1983, when the Eight Amendment was added to the Constitution, was not the correct thing to do and had not worked.

“I think, at various stages in the past 35 years, in legal wrangling around that . . . that has been clear,’’ he added.

Sinn Féin TD Imelda Munster said the amendment was a relic from a bygone era.

“It was outrageous in 1983 and it remains a bar to equality now in in 2018,’’ she added.

“We have come too far to allow it to remain unconstitutional for women in Ireland to access health care.’’

Ms Munster said the amendment’s consequences should be remembered.

“In the X case, the State dragged a child, who had been raped and was pregnant as a result, through the courts, to hold her prisoner and force her to remain pregnant with a rapist’s child,’’ she added.

She said women had died because of the amendment “and that is the truth of it’’.

Repealing the amendment would mean women would not have to die in the shameful, sad way as Savita and other women had.

“Doctors will not have their hands tied in difficult cases,’’ she added.

Social Democrats TD Róisín Shortall said the vast majority of people in the country would believe that “nobody has the right to insist that in the case or rape or incest a woman who suffers from either of those awful experiences should be prevented from taking whatever action she believes is right in terms of whether to terminate that pregnancy that resulted.

‘Way forward’

The only way to provide for people in that situation would be abortion being available up to a certain point.

Ms Shortall also said there was conflicting legal advice about whether an amendment was required to allow the Oireachtas to legislate. “I know it’s not general practice to publish advice from the Attorney General but I think it’s important to publish that advice in terms of what is the soundest way forward.”

She added that there was precedent for this because in 1983 the then taoiseach Garret FitzGerald published the advice of the attorney general.

Fianna Fáil TD Michael McGrath said it was his view that there were many people who favoured some change but certainly not change along the lines of the joint committee. “I think the recommendations go too far and I think the Government will be making a major mistake if they put the question along the lines of what the committee has recommended. I do not support unrestricted abortion up to 12 weeks.”

He said he would personally favour retaining a constitutional protection for the unborn.

“I appreciate the evidence given by the medics and I think it has to be taken on board in respect of the practical difficulties of differentiating between where a risk to the health of a mother becomes a risk to her life. We have no option but to deal with that.”

“I would favour replacing the existing (Article) 42.3.3 with a constitutional protection for the unborn but which enables and permits the Oireachtas to legislate within certain confines,” he said.

‘No restriction’

He did not believe the difficulties in doing this were insurmountable and “accepting that they are insurmountable means that we are encroaching on a most fundamental right of all and it is my view that the right to life of the unborn should remain in the Constitution in a practicable and workable manner.”

Fianna Fáil TD Mary Butler said she was personally against repealing the Eighth Amendment. I have always supported a referendum because people are entitled to have their vote and have their say and I accept that it is 35 years since people had the opportunity to vote on this.”

She said that she really grappled with the words of the committee’s recommendation that abortion be allowed up to 12 weeks “with no restriction as to reason”.

She said: “I cannot understand how anyone could be told with no restriction as to reason to terminate a 12-week-old baby carried by her mother. It bears pointing out that this will go beyond the position in Britain where the abortion act of 1967 still requires two doctors to form the opinion that an abortion is necessary to prevent a risk to the mental or physical health of a woman.”

Ms Butler said that “one in every five pregnancies in Britain ends in abortion. That’s 200,000 abortions a year, with stronger laws than is proposed by the Citizens’ Assembly. Currently in Ireland I believe one in 13 pregnancies ends in abortion.”