Minister and Senator trade insults over landmark fertility and surrogacy law

Stephen Donnelly accuses Rónán Mullen of ‘obsession’ with controlling women’s sexuality, while Mullen claims Donnelly may be ‘worst minister we have ever had’

Stephen Donnelly and Rónán Mullen clashed during debate on legislation to regulate fertility treatment and surrogacy

There were bitter exchanges in the Seanad between Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly and Independent Senator Rónán Mullen during a debate on landmark legislation to regulate fertility treatment and surrogacy.

The Minister accused Mr Mullen of being “an absolute disgrace” and setting himself up as a champion of women’s rights but that he had for years sought to control women and their reproductive health. “You have an obsession with controlling people’s sexuality.”

The Senator in turn claimed Mr Donnelly is “probably the worst minister we have ever had, no friend of children with scoliosis, that’s for sure, but very good at the virtue-signalling politics that gets you plaudits in certain quarters”.

Mr Mullen and Fine Gael Senator Mary Seery Kearney had earlier repeatedly clashed in sharp exchanges over amendments in the legislation including on international surrogacy.


The Health (Assisted Human Reproduction) Bill has been planned for more than 20 years and is currently at the final stages in the Seanad, after which it will become law.

A key element is the establishment of the Assisted Human Reproduction Regulatory Authority (AHRRA), to regulate technological advances in fertility and license fertility clinics.

Surrogacy, pre-implantation genetic diagnosis and embryo-screening procedures are also covered.

The Seanad row erupted after Mr Mullen admonished those in the public gallery who re-acted to some of his comments on surrogacy, but he rejected Mr Donnelly’s claims he had “mocked them”.

Mr Mullen said “I disagree with surrogacy. I disagree especially with international surrogacy. I think it breaches human rights and I reserve my right to say this is not some place of public entertainment where people can make noise in response to things they like or don’t like.”

The Minister said Mr Mullen was an “absolute disgrace” and “without any irony is setting himself up as a defender of women’s rights”.

He told Mr Mullen “you are no champion of women’s rights. You have sought for years to control women,” through the Constitution, through legislation, through dogma. “You have an obsession with controlling their reproductive health. You have an obsession with controlling people’s sexuality.”

Mr Mullen said Mr Donnelly was “such a weak and verbally inadequate Minister who has no principles and whose only mission in life is to give the loudest and most influential lobbyists whatever they want”.

Mr Mullen had said that international surrogacy should at the very least be confined to the EU because “there is simply no way that this can be policed remotely from Ireland”.

But the Minister said: “We’re not doing it in some bizarre geopolitical line on a map. We’re doing it in a considered, legally robust jurisdiction-by-jurisdiction and case-by-case basis.”

Legislation to create an authority to regulate fertility treatments, surrogacy to become law todayOpens in new window ]

Earlier, Labour Senator Marie Sherlock said clinicians had been operating with uncertainty for many years, and patients were also affected by the “Wild West that has prevailed in some circumstances”, with some fertility clinics “operating in a profit-driven sector”.

She welcomed provisions to preserve the reproductive tissue of children under 18 “facing a treatment that will significantly or permanently diminish their fertility”.

But she questioned why the Minister would not include an amendment to help children for whom infertility is a side effect of a progressive condition they have. The measure had been included in the original version of the Bill.

Mr Donnelly said he would bring forward amending legislation in September because “there is a danger the entire Bill would not get through all stages of the Oireachtas in the next three weeks and that is something I am not willing to allow happen”.

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran is Parliamentary Correspondent of The Irish Times