Disability sector must be heard in abortion debate, says McGrath

Greater supports for children with disabilities needed in tandem with abortion legislation

Minister of State with responsibility for disabilities, Finian McGrath. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins

Minister of State with responsibility for disabilities, Finian McGrath. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins

 

Moves to liberalise Ireland’s abortion legislation must be accompanied by greater supports for families of children with disabilities, the Minister of State with responsibility for disabilities has said.

Finian McGrath has also said representatives of the disability sector have told the Government they fear their voices will not be heard during the abortion referendum debate.

Mr McGrath is in favour of the findings of the Oireachtas Committee on the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution, which proposed allowing for abortion in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy without restrictions. He said he saw “no other way” of dealing with some issues that were raised during the Oireachtas committee hearings.

Minister for Health Simon Harris has also said he is in favour of allowing for abortion without restrictions up to 12 weeks.

The committee rejected non-fatal abnormality as a basis for abortion, which removed grounds for the late abortion of foetuses with disabilities.

However, Mattie McGrath, the anti-abortion Tipperary TD who sat on the committee and disagreed with its report, said disability would be a big issue during the campaign, claiming other TDs had treated the subject with “contempt”.

Resources

Finian McGrath, who has a daughter with Down syndrome, said he attaches particular importance to the committee’s comment that “the State should provide specific resources so that there are social supports for carers and better facilities for people whose children have special needs”.

He wants “total reassurance” this would become “a reality for people with disabilities and their families”.

“There is no point in telling people in the middle of a crisis pregnancy who have been told very bad news that there are not enough services for children with special needs and in the debate I will be seeking a strong commitment for more investment in services.”

The Minister of State said groups who had spoken to him were concerned about a significant liberalisation of Ireland’s existing abortion legislation.

“I have to represent the disability community as well in this debate and the disability community are coming to me behind the scenes. They haven’t come out yet, that’ll be their call. They are saying: ‘What about us?’ And that is going to be an issue.”

He said a number of delegations had privately told him they are concerned that the voices of disability groups had not been heard in other countries where there were very high levels of abortion of foetuses with disabilities. He also disagreed with such an approach.

“I would never want to be part of a society that’s selective,” he said. “That is an issue I have.”