Eamon Gilmore calls for 'legal clarity' on abortion issue

Thursday 15 November 2012 23.48
Mary Lou McDonald said a report is not needed to tell us that the medical profession is left in legal limbo
Mary Lou McDonald said a report is not needed to tell us that the medical profession is left in legal limbo

Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore has said it is time to bring legal clarity to the area of medical terminations.

Speaking in the Dáil, Mr Gilmore also said that he and the Taoiseach would be receiving copies of the report from the expert group on abortion.

The 14-member expert group has made recommendations based on a European Court of Human Rights judgment that the State failed to implement existing rights to lawful abortion where a mother's life is at risk.

The Tánaiste said the Government would consider whether the report should be published, adding that there are a range of complex issues that need to be considered.

The Labour leader was responding to Sinn Féin's Mary Lou McDonald, who said Ireland is the only jurisdiction on earth where urgency is defined by 20 years.

She said a report is not needed to tell us that the medical profession is left in legal limbo, and that as a result the health of women is left in jeopardy.

Ms McDonald said the blunt truth was that women were left in limbo because successive governments have failed to act.

She asked the Tánaiste why he could not say when the report would be published, or when legislation would be brought forward.

Eamon Gilmore told the Sinn Féin TD that his position on this issue was on the public record and had been for 20 years.

He said it was a position that had not always received public or cross-party support.

The Tánaiste said this would not be the seventh government to ignore the issue.

Ms McDonald said the expert group was late in reporting, and asked why the Government was now equivocating.

She said this was not about the broader issue of abortion, but about specific cases where the woman's life was at risk.

Speaking on Drivetime this evening, Minister Pat Rabbitte said there was an urgency about bringing legal clarity to the law in the area of abortion.

Mr Rabbitte said the death of Savita Halappanavar was an unspeakable tragedy, of a kind we have been told would not happen in Ireland.

He said he is quite sure the Minister for Health will not dwell on the report from the expert group any longer than is necessary.

Reilly wants Savita review to 'stand up to scrutiny'

Minister for Health James Reilly has said he believes the Health Service Executive will do a thorough job of investigating the death of Savita Halappanavar.

The 31-year-old dentist died in Galway University Hospital after a miscarriage last month.

Her husband has claimed she had sought a termination after being told her baby would not survive.

Dr Reilly said that any perception of a lack of independence would be a concern to him.

Speaking to RTÉ News, the minister said he is also waiting to get the coroner's report, which he said would also be thorough and independent.

Asked why he had not asked the Health Information and Quality Authority to investigate the case, he said he would give that matter some consideration but he did not wish to crowd the issue with inquiries.

Mr Reilly said that the sensitivities of the families, both here and in India, had to be a prime consideration.

He said he wanted the HSE review to be expedited as quickly as possible, and he wanted to give the families certainty as soon as possible and not have them left in limbo for a moment longer than is necessary.

Dr Reilly said the review had to be thorough and a balance had to be struck always between trying to get answers as soon as possible, but not to do so in such a rushed fashion that the true answers were not obtained.

The minister said he wanted the "findings of this to stand up to the scrutiny of the world".

External expert

The HSE is to appoint an independent, external expert to investigate the death of Ms Halappanavar. The executive's National Incident Management Team is investigating the death.

The HSE has confirmed that it is still finalising the investigation's terms of reference, as well as who will carry it out.

In a statement, it said it is in the process of appointing an independent, external expert in obstetrics and gynaecology to join the investigation team.

It is now expected to be announced tomorrow.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Dr Peter Boylan, of the Institute of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, said it was time for politicians to have the courage of their convictions.

He added that Ireland needed to act like an “adult state” on the issue of abortion.

Minister of State at the Department of Finance Brian Hayes has said he accepts that some reputational damage has been done to Ireland following the death of Ms Halappanavar.

Speaking on RTÉ's News at One, Mr Hayes said that he expects an "early determination" by Government on the issues addressed by the expert group on abortion.

The story was on the front of several large Indian newspapers today.

The Indian government said it deeply regretted Ms Halappanavar's death.

"The death of an Indian national in such circumstances is a matter of concern," a spokesman said.