Tearful Clare Daly recites harrowing roll of maternal deaths

TD recounts ‘hard fought’ efforts for inquests that revealed death by medical misadventure

Clare Daly TD: ‘Their inquests have brought the issue of maternal deaths into the public domain and given it the public attention it deserves.’ File photograph: Gareth Chaney Collins

Clare Daly TD: ‘Their inquests have brought the issue of maternal deaths into the public domain and given it the public attention it deserves.’ File photograph: Gareth Chaney Collins

 

Independents 4 Change TD Clare Daly became emotional in the Dáil during a debate on legislation to make inquests into maternal deaths mandatory.

Ms Daly wept as she read out the names of women who had died in the past decade and for whom there were “hard fought” efforts to have inquests which she said found they died as a result of medical misadventure.

“Their inquests have brought the issue of maternal deaths into the public domain and given it the public attention it deserves,” she said.

“They are: Tania McCabe, Evelyn Flanagan, Jennifer Crean, Bimbo Onanuga, Dhara Kivlehan, Nora Hyland, Savita Halappanavar, Sally Rowlette and Malak Thawley.”

The Dublin Fingal TD has campaigned for mandatory maternal inquests since she was elected to the Dáil in 2011 and introduced a Private Members’ Bill in 2015 to make inquests mandatory. Its provisions are reflected in the Government’s Coroners (Amendment) Bill which was passed in the Dáil and now goes to the Seanad.

The legislation makes maternal death inquests mandatory with limited exceptions, as well as inquests into the child fatalities during birth or in the first year after death. Moreover, it requires that the families of the deceased are informed of decisions in relation to inquests and provides for legal aid for relatives.

During the debate Ms Daly also listed names of other women including “Antoinette Pepper who died 30 years ago in St Vincent’s hospital and whose family has been repeatedly denied an inquest. We are here for Helen Moynihan, who died in the National Maternity Hospital in 1981. We are here for all the women whose names we do not know and for whom no inquest was ever held.”

Ms Daly said they were throwing down the gauntlet to the HSE “that we are not going to accept another family being put through this trauma or being stonewalled by a litigation obsessed health service”.

She added that there was “something really wrong with our health service when more is paid in damages and legal fees than on our maternity services”.

Getting to the truth

People in authority talked about Ireland having a litigious culture “but it is a fact that without the transparency that comes from full and mandatory open disclosure and full inquests the only way people have to get the truth and information is to go through a legal system”, she said.

Relatives of some of the women who died were in the gallery for debate on the Bill. Ms Daly also expressed concern that the legislation would be further delayed because additional Government amendments are to be introduced in the Seanad.

She said the “drafting delays in the Bill have been the source of the most unspeakable frustration for the House”. She called on Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan to ensure the Bill was passed before the summer recess.

Ms Daly added that “we need and want a health system that works for women and their families; a health system that does not compound the families’ suffering by denying, defending and covering up in the face of the most devastating tragedy”.

The Minister said he hoped they could have the Bill enacted in its entirety by the end of July.

Mr Flanagan acknowledged that the legislation “has taken considerably longer than any of us, including me, would have wished. There are very complex issues,” but he was “not in the business of making excuses” and he hoped they could move swiftly on the issue.

Mr Flanagan said the Bill was one of “between 115 and 120 Bills on my desk at present, all of which are active”.

Fianna Fáil justice spokesman Jim O’Callaghan said the legislation “is very important because, unfortunately, a significant number of maternal deaths have occurred in Ireland. The families of the women who died are fully entitled to have a proper inquest and inquiry into the circumstances of the women’s death. It is a gaping absence in the legislative system that we must ensure is filled.”