Deputy Catherine Murphy asked the Tánaiste Joan Burton a number of topical questions on the final sitting of the Dáil before the summer recess (July 17) in light of the UN HRC hearings in Geneva.
The Labour Party leader firmly ruled out any hope of new legislation for victims of rape and incest and those seeking terminations for medical reasons (TFMR).
Deputy Catherine Murphy: “This week’s damning review of our human rights practices by the United Nations Human Rights Committee makes for grim reading but it is hardly surprising. Our failure in regard to the Magdalen laundries survivors, the symphysiotomy survivors, those who spent time in mother and baby homes and those who were victims of clerical child abuse is shameful. However, we stand to repeat the mistakes of the past if we do not act to address the grossly discriminatory laws that govern abortion. The UN committee confirmed that we are in breach of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights by denying women the option to avail of abortion in certain circumstances, namely, rape, incest, fatal foetal abnormalities and where a woman’s health is in danger. I would argue that we are not only in breach of the covenant but also in breach of basic humanity in denying an abortion to a woman who has been raped, is a victim of incest or has to endure carrying to full term a pregnancy when there is no prospect of delivering a live baby. I found it profoundly chilling to listen to the remarks of the principal officer of the Department of Health who told the committee that denying these women the right to abortion was the will of the people. I question what people are meant. The eighth amendment to the Constitution was inserted more than 30 years ago and attitudes have changed significantly since then, as recent polls have shown.
The Labour Party is a socially progressive party. The Tánaiste is the leader of that party as well as the deputy leader of this country, and she is also one of the few women in a decision-making role in this Government. Is she going to use her powerful position to bring about change in this area and, if so, how is she going to do that?”
Tánaiste: “In regard to the issues arising around fatal foetal abnormalities, the Deputy will be aware that some time ago the Government legislated successfully in regard to the X case. That is reflected in our legislation and is an issue that both parties in Government have addressed. In regard to fatal foetal abnormalities, I am on record as stating that I would like to see a situation where it is possible to address them. As of yet we do not have agreement on that in the programme for Government. It is a personal position and I have been on public record in this regard over a long period.”
Deputy Catherine Murphy: “I know we have legacy issues and it is very uncomfortable to consider past failures in hindsight. We are asking how we allowed such things to happen and who was in power at the time, but will the pattern be repeated by people in power now, and will we have the same conversations in 30 years?”
Deputy John Halligan: “Exactly.”
Deputy Catherine Murphy: “The same committee might then be reviewing how the country dealt with issues like fatal foetal abnormalities, for example, or people who have been raped or subject to incest and who have been denied their human rights. The Tánaiste indicated her personal views are on the record but I ask her as Tánaiste – deputy leader of the country – and the leader of the Labour Party for her position on the issue.
I went to Liverpool Women’s Hospital with people who were part of a study group on fatal foetal abnormalities. People were put through a tortuous process where, for example, they would have had to retrieve the remains of a baby they wanted by way of something like DHL delivery, which is absolutely appalling. It is inhumane and we cannot rely on a 31 year old referendum decision, presuming that people have not moved on when so many events have taken place in this country. We need a referendum, as the Tánaiste knows, if we are to change that position. Does the Tánaiste accept we need a referendum and will she commit to working towards such a referendum?”
Tánaiste: “There has been an extensive process with the Constitutional Convention, which considered various issues and reported findings. As I pointed out, the Government and the Dáil has dealt with issues arising from the X case. Those had been unresolved over a very long period of years. We want a position in Ireland where every baby is a wanted baby. The Deputy spoke about cases and the people she accompanied in Liverpool, and those are tragic circumstances as the babies are wanted but their life outcomes were in doubt because of medical issues.
It was referenced in Geneva that on a previous occasion, the Irish people gave a view – as was their entitlement – on what they wanted reflected in the Constitution. I did not share the view at the time and my party and others like me recommended voting against the amendment to the Constitution. As a democrat, the Deputy must recognise that the people voted for the eighth amendment to the Constitution. The Government has legislated for and dealt with issues surrounding the X case, which has been a difficult issue in this country over a very long period. That is what was agreed in the programme for Government.”
Deputy John Halligan: “So the Tánaiste will not agree to a new referendum.”
Previously: Violation Once Again