In attendance: Deputies Ciaran Cannon, Paudie Coffey, Joan Collins, Marcella Corcoran Kennedy, Joe Costello, Michael Creed, Bernard J. Durkan, Damien English, Frank Feighan, Terence Flanagan, Simon Harris, Kevin Humphreys, Finian McGrath, Joe McHugh, Tony McLoughlin, Derek Nolan, Seán Ó Fearghaíl, Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, Patrick O'Donovan, John O'Mahony, Willie Penrose, John Paul Phelan, Shane Ross, Billy Timmins and Peadar Tóibín, and Senators Ivana Bacik, Sean D. Barrett, Paul Bradford, Terry Brennan, Martin Conway, Fidelma Healy Eames, Terry Leyden, Labhrás Ó Murchú, Marie-Louise O'Donnell, Jim Walsh, Mary M. White and Katherine Zappone.
Chairman: I welcome everyone to the meeting. I thank the Cathaoirleach, the Clerk of the Seanad and the Seanad Committee on Procedure and Privileges for facilitating our request to meet in the Seanad Chamber. This is the first in a series of hearings the joint committee will conduct in the next three days to discuss the implementation of the Government decision following the recent publication of the expert group report on matters relating to the case A, B and C v. Ireland. On Tuesday, 18 December 2012, the Government decided to accept the expert group's suggestion that the European Court of Human Rights judgment in the A, B and C v. Ireland case be addressed by the putting in place of legislation and regulations setting out the current constitutional position, as stated in Article 40.3.30 of the Constitution as interpreted by the Supreme Court.
Members of the committee and I are conscious of the complexity and sensitivity of this issue. For these same reasons, the Government decided that the process of drafting the heads of the Bill and draft regulations in line with its decision would not occur until after the Joint Committee on Health and Children had conducted hearings over three days this week. The Government has stated the aim of its action in this matter is to ensure clarity and legal certainty with regard to the process to be followed in the determination of whether a pregnancy is permissible in cases where there is a real and substantial risk to the life, as opposed to the health, of a woman, as a result of that pregnancy. In doing so we must ensure we take full account of Article 40.3.30 of the Constitution. The Government's decision is confined to the option to be pursued in order to bring regulations and rules to an area which is currently unregulated. As Chairman, it is my intention, with the co-operation of members and witnesses, to facilitate a discussion on current medical guidelines and legal practices with regard to legal and medical expertise, to ascertain the difficulties, if any, legal and medical, encountered by medical experts when making decisions and to provide a forum for the expression of views, recognising the broad range of views in this matter.
When the meetings have concluded, the committee should furnish a report to the Government summarising the oral and verbal contributions it has heard and received from various stakeholders. Over the course of the next three days the committee will hear a wide range of views from legal and medical experts, as well as from churches and advocacy groups, on what issues should be considered when implementing the Government's decision to accept the expert group's suggestions. I hope this will be a positive and constructive discussion giving each witness and committee member the opportunity to express his or her views. I hope we will respect and listen to each other. I intend to ensure the hearings will be conducted in a balanced, fair and calm manner, focusing on the issues which need to be considered in the drafting of the heads of the Bill. While we all recognise that many people have divergent and deeply held views on the issues involved, it is vital that the meetings are held in a manner that is respectful and tolerant.
In drawing up the panel of witnesses and speakers for the hearings members of the committee and Members of the Oireachtas who are not members of the committee suggested names as relevant panellists. These suggestions were considered and invitations were subsequently issued.