Protection of Life in Pregnancy (Amendment) (Fatal Foetal Abnormalities) Bill 2013: Second Stage [Private Members] (Continued)

Friday, 6 February 2015

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 866 No. 4

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Brian Stanley: Information on Brian Stanley Zoom on Brian Stanley] We in Sinn Féin have stated previously that the woman's voice must be at the centre of the process and that no undue obstacles or delays should be put in the way of necessary treatment. We have debated this issue over many Sinn Féin Ard-Fheiseanna, and we have reached an agreed policy position. Some will not be pleased that we will abstain on this question but it is the members of our party, as democratically delegated, who will decide the policy. We will go before the electorate at election time to get a mandate for that policy.

We have a motion that will be put before our Ard-Fheis in a few weeks time that will facilitate discussion of this issue, and I look forward to that. We believe that the best way to move forward on this and other related matters is by measured and respectful debate in which we listen to all sides. Everyone in this debate has deeply held views, each believing their position is correct.

We believe that Irish society has a responsibility to not only address the issue of abortion but to also address the fact that approximately 5,000 Irish women travel to Britain each year for abortions. It is a national scandal, and we must address that. We support the right of a woman to seek a termination of a pregnancy where her life is at risk or in grave danger, and in cases of rape or incest. However, we cannot support Deputy Daly's Bill at this time as we have not concluded our discussions on this within our party structures.

That does not mean we do not hold this question in importance and address it on a regular basis. The opposite is the case. We have continuously updated our policy on abortion at successive Ard-Fheiseanna, and we will do so again over the next few weeks. We must ensure that our policies are truly representative of our members and that the members have a say in determining it. Two or three people in a room do not decide that.

Deputy Ruth Coppinger: Information on Ruth Coppinger Zoom on Ruth Coppinger What is keeping them so long?

Deputy Brian Stanley: Information on Brian Stanley Zoom on Brian Stanley Our party operates democratically, and the party delegates from each cumann in the party throughout the country will make that decision.

Our current policy would require an amendment to the eighth amendment of the Constitution. We believe that the issue of amending Article 40.3.3° should be referred to a second constitutional convention for that matter to be dealt with. There is a huge issue around that and it is something we will develop and articulate in the future.

We accept that those who have proposed this Bill, and many mothers and families, are anxious to have this issue addressed but any development of our position will only be reached through thorough consideration and debate within our party, and that will be take place in the next month. I look forward to that and to us reaching a conclusion on this issue.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Seán Kenny): Information on Seán Kenny Zoom on Seán Kenny As there are no more speakers offering, the Minister has a right to speak twice. He has five minutes.

Minister for Health (Deputy Leo Varadkar): Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar I do not have much more to add to what I said previously but I want to pick up on a few points made by Deputies.

  Deputy Wallace referred to the possibility that 30% of people in prison are wrongly convicted. I do not know if that is true. I certainly hope it is not, but a miscarriage of justice can be reversed, and people can be released. Terminations are not reversible. One of the reasons we do not have the death penalty in this country is exactly for that reason.

  Deputies Wallace and Coppinger suggested that we pass the Bill and allow "someone to appeal it to the Supreme Court". That is not the way our Constitution works. Someone cannot just go to the Supreme Court. They need to have locus standi.

Deputy Ruth Coppinger: Information on Ruth Coppinger Zoom on Ruth Coppinger Our Constitution is a joke, by the way.

Deputy Leo Varadkar: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar Essentially, what they are asking for is a hard case, and they are looking for that to happen again-----

Deputy Ruth Coppinger: Information on Ruth Coppinger Zoom on Ruth Coppinger It is 90 years old.

Deputy Leo Varadkar: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar -----which is not a view I would take. The President can refer a Bill to the Supreme Court, but that is a different matter.

For whatever reason, the property tax managed to make its way into this debate with both Deputies Wallace and Murphy saying the Government did not have a mandate to introduce a property tax. That is not quite true. A property tax, albeit in the form of a site valuation charge, was in page 18 of the Labour Party manifesto. It is from this that our mandate for the property tax derives, and my party's manifesto included a commitment to introduce water metering and water charges. It is not correct to say, therefore, that we do not have a mandate to do what we have done in regard to both of those items.


Deputy Leo Varadkar: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar Deputy Wallace should read the exact paragraph on that in our party's manifesto, which will explain it better for him.

Section 1(2) of the Bill states fatal foetal abnormality means "a medical condition suffered by a foetus such that it is incompatible with life outside the womb". No speakers other than Deputy Boyd Barrett mentioned any specific conditions but I will mention two more - a neurotube defect like anencephaly or trisomy 13, which is Edwards' syndrome. It cannot be said with certainty that those conditions are not compatible with life outside the womb because in many or even most cases they can be compatible with life outside the womb, albeit only for a short period of time.

Deputy Ruth Coppinger: Information on Ruth Coppinger Zoom on Ruth Coppinger So what?

Deputy Leo Varadkar: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar What we do in the Dáil always is debate two laws: the law that is before us and the law of unintended consequences. That is in response to Deputy Coppinger's comment, "So what".

Deputy Ruth Coppinger: Information on Ruth Coppinger Zoom on Ruth Coppinger It is a woman's decision.

Deputy Leo Varadkar: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar The question we have to address here is the meaning of the term "incompatible with life". Does it mean that the baby can be born alive, which seems to be what some of the speakers opposite have implied? As Deputy Tuffy pointed out, if it does cover babies that can be born alive it is unconstitutional and even if it does not the constitutional protection to the unborn also applies to the child in the womb. The Bill states "incompatible with life" but what does that mean? Is it life for a few hours, a few minutes, a few days or maybe for a few months? That is not a Jesuitical issue. It is something that must be defined in legislation and it is why it is important to get legislation right.

Deputy Collins suggested that it did not mean that at all but that it only meant cases - I am not aware of the diagnosis to which she is referring - where there is no chance whatsoever of the child surviving outside of the womb, even for a few seconds. Others in this debate have said something different, namely, a few minutes or maybe a few days. They were not clear.

Different again was Deputy Coppinger's contribution, which referred to women carrying dead babies. That is another thing entirely, and is totally incorrect. Somebody who is carrying what Deputy Coppinger describes as a dead baby is somebody who has had what we describe in medicine as a missed miscarriage. Every day in maternity hospitals throughout Ireland missed miscarriages-----

Deputy Ruth Coppinger: Information on Ruth Coppinger Zoom on Ruth Coppinger What about Savita Halappanavar? She was not-----

Deputy Leo Varadkar: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar That was not a missed miscarriage. Deputy Coppinger does not know what she is talking about. It is quite bad. A missed miscarriage is a case where the foetus is dead in the womb - no heartbeat and no brain activity. It happens all the time in our maternity hospitals, and those dead foetuses are removed by dilatation and curettage, D and C. The Deputy does not understand the legislation she is proposing, which is very poor. If she were as informed as she were passionate, she would be a much better legislator.

Deputy Mick Wallace: Information on Mick Wallace Zoom on Mick Wallace She is not proposing the Bill.

Deputy Leo Varadkar: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar The proponents opposite are clearly confused. They are making different arguments and believe different issues can arise from this Bill, and that is exactly what we always do with this issue. We pass legislation or amend our Constitution without fully understanding the consequences of that and what we are actually proposing. It is not defined well enough, and it needs to be much better defined.

This is flawed legislation. Even if it was constitutional, which it is not, it is bad legislation for the reasons I have explained and the reasons the Members opposite have demonstrated through their, somewhat at least, different interpretations of what it would mean. No matter what people feel about this issue, it is flawed legislation. The proponents do not even seem to understand it. It is unconstitutional in the view of the Attorney General, and for those reasons we will not support this Bill. However, I believe this is a matter we should deal with in the Thirty-second Dáil, which is not that far away, and that is a position I will be advocating within my party and elsewhere. The suggestion of a constitutional convention or something along those lines might be the correct way to move forward.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Seán Kenny): Information on Seán Kenny Zoom on Seán Kenny As the proposer of the Bill, Deputy Daly has ten minutes to reply.

Deputy Clare Daly: Information on Clare Daly Zoom on Clare Daly I might even take a bit more time as the Leas-Cheann Comhairle, in doing his arithmetic on the allocation of time, miscalculated and left some of the Deputies short of their time. However, I will try not to stray too far off the ten minutes.

I am the person proposing this legislation, and I understand it perfectly. I will not have the Minister use the comments of some people who spoke in favour of this legislation to undermine the valid and legally sound legislation we are putting forward.

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