Crowds celebrating the result of the abortion referendum in Dublin Castle last year

It’s almost a year since the Irish people voted overwhelmingly to repeal the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution.

It is clear that some of those who opposed the introduction of legal abortion services believe this decision can be reversed, and have brought their battle to the board of the Irish College of General Practitioners (ICGP).

Breda O’Brien believes the board of the ICGP is “afraid of democracy” because it has not listened to the concerns of a small number of members who are vehemently opposed to the principle of abortion services being provided within general practice (“GPs are ignoring democracy on abortion issues”, Opinion & Analysis, March 30th).

It is important these views are listened to and the ICGP has done so extensively.

These members – some 500 – believe general practice is not the place to provide terminations. Your columnist notes the UK model of standalone clinics.

Let us look at the facts.

The Irish College of General Practitioners has over 3,600 members, of which some 500 have said they wish the IGCP to debate and vote on the provision of terminations being provided in general practice.

Over 300 GPs are now providing abortion services and have signed State contracts to do so. Over 500 have completed training in the provision of termination of pregnancy services. No GP who does not wish to provide such a service has been asked to do so.

The Government’s approach is that the contract is provided on an “opt in” basis and there is no change to existing General Medical Service arrangements.

The ICGP board, on legal advice, cannot hold an EGM on motions which it cannot adopt as ICGP policy. However, the ICGP is facilitating the debate of this issue at its AGM in May, via an extended deadline for motions through the normal route, ie its faculties.

There is no fee to attend the AGM of the ICGP. It is free for registered members.

On December 2nd, 2018, the ICGP facilitated a debate on termination of pregnancy at a general meeting which was characterised by a walkout and personalised attacks on the board members. The meeting in Malahide was in addition to an extensive online consultation process, six regional meetings and a full debate at a specially convened ICGP meeting last October which included faculty representatives.

The board of the ICGP acts according to the constitution of the organisation and company law. These rules do not contain any remit on conscientious objection. However, representations in this regard were made to the Medical Council on behalf of members. In light of the ministerial commitment to provide service and give effect to the referendum result, the ICGP engaged with the Department of Health.

The provision of a 24-hour helpline and an opt-in clause was secured to ensure those wishing to provide could, and those who did not wish to were not required to do so. The actions of the ICGP have been solely responsive to events outside the organisation.

All decisions of the board of the ICGP were unanimous and have been based on solid ethical principles, ie the safety and care of the patient, which lies at the heart of general practice. This was the rationale for producing robust evidence-based clinical guidance, which is one of the core responsibilities of a specialist body.

We wish that those who oppose the provision of abortion services to women who need them would recognise the outcome of last year’s referendum, and accept that this is outside the ICGP’s control and or responsibility.

The ICGP is not a political organisation. It is the academic body for general practice whose remit is training, education, research and standards.

The board has acted in good faith, reflected the wishes of the electorate, put the needs of patients to the fore, designed excellent clinical guidance, were respectful to our members’ different views and demonstrated leadership.

The ICGP is not the instigator, promotor or provider of abortions in Ireland, nor is it the means of subverting the wishes of the population as expressed in the referendum.

Those who oppose the introduction of abortion in Ireland have a perfectly valid ethical position.

However, they do not have the right to dictate to others how they should act, be they either colleagues or patients.

No amount of repetition – and there has been a great deal – will alter the fact that the board of the ICGP has acted in an honourable and balanced manner. As a board, we take full responsibility for what we have done and stand behind our actions.

The board of the ICGP will continue to represent the needs of general practice which is under very serious threat from deficiencies in funding and manpower with resulting overload.

The democratic decisions of the Irish people will also be respected.

Dr John O’Brien,

Dr John Gillman,

Mr Fintan Foy,
Chief Executive Officer,

Irish College of General Practitioners,
Lincoln Place,
Dublin 2.

Irish College of General Practitioners and democracy (The Irish Times letters page)


20 thoughts on “The Facts

  1. Daisy Chainsaw

    Hateful fundies attempting to block the will of the people by the back door. iOnanists get very stroppy when they think they’re being “silenced” (through their newspaper columns and regular radio/tv appearances.), but they’ve no problem with silencing the overwhelming majority by their usual sneaky, underhand methods.

    Well done on the ICGP telling these hypocritical charlatans where to go.

  2. phil

    The ICGP, should sit down with them and have a meeting, listen to them carefully , take notes and then setup a committee that will report back to Breda by 2025 …..

    Meanwhile the ICGP should continue to roll out the services …

  3. realPolithicks

    “Breda O’Brien believes the board of the ICGP is “afraid of democracy” because it has not listened to the concerns of a small number of members ”

    By that logic isn’t she also “afraid of democracy” for trying to thwart the will of the majority of people who voted in last years referendum.

    1. Mike Duignan

      Breda as ever creates strawmen in the limited list of debating tricks. The ICGP is not a democracy. Her argument ends there.

  4. newsjustin

    I think the ICGP seem to be explaining themselves quite well there. Like any representative body, it’ll be hard to represent all views on the matter amongst their membership.

    But on the general tone of “people not accepting the referendum result/will of the people.” It needs to be said again that the referendum removed Article 40.3.3 from the constitution. That’s all it did. The result is that politicians and the rest of civil society get to trash out rules and regulations and procedures for delivering abortions. This will often be a contentious issue. This is what we are seeing here. And it will go on, and on. Because abortion provision is now an issue that politicians can change as they see fit. Complaining about that is complaining about what the referendum was explicitly all about.

    1. Donal

      While I don’t wholly disagree with the sentiment of your second paragraph, i will argue against it!
      The referendum was passed with a lot of information being provided to the public about the regime that would be implemented if that were to be the case. Thus it can be argued that the will of the people was both the removal of 40.3.3 and the implementation of the promised set up.
      Unlike say, Brexit, where the aftermath was absolutely there to be fought over, the aftermath of the 40.3.3 referendum was very much voted for by the people

      1. rotide

        “Thus it can be argued that the will of the people was both the removal of 40.3.3 and the implementation of the promised set up.”

        No, it really can’t . The wording of the referendum was crystal clear. We voted to remove the 8th amendment, that’s it. There’s no getting around that. No amount of hand waving which you (and the other side) are getting into can change what actually was voted on.

        1. Cian

          Yes it can.
          Donal has literally argued the point @3.46. :-)

          But I think there is a middle ground. The people voted specifically for the removal of 40.3.3; so all you can say with 100% certainty is that a majority voted to remove the 8th;

          However, as Donal said, there was a clear roadmap of what legislation would be enacted (and to be fair to the government – they have implemented what they proposed), so people voted “Yes” explicitly – to remove the 8th, but implicitly that the removal of the 8th would be followed up with primarily legislation as they did.

        2. Donal

          The wording of the amendment was crystal clear, and the intention of the government in the case that it was passed was also crystal clear. Nobody voted yes without an awareness of what would follow

          1. newsjustin

            I agree in the main, I think. But I don’t think our positions are mutually exclusive. Yes, there was an implicit backing to the type of regime that Govt had outlined. But once 40.3.3 was removed, all bets are off. The issue can be revisited and revised from here on in. And that too will have democratic backing, because the public voted to put it in the hands of politicians.

          2. rotide

            Justin nailed it here.

            It doesn’t matter if everyone implicity was voting for something that wasn’t on the ballot sheet. If the next government brought in legislation banning all forms of abortion, that would be entirely legal They won’t because like you say, there is a mandate arising from the referendum, but that’s a political thing, not a legal one.

          3. Donal

            Justin is correct
            But that is reaching towards hypotheticals
            The current status is that the government are implementing legislation that they promised to implement and that we voted for (implicitly!)
            And now a minority of ICGP members are trying to undermine that legislative decision
            By all means fight your corner at the next election. But do not attempt to undermine your organisation when it is following the law

    2. ReproBertie

      “the referendum removed Article 40.3.3 from the constitution. That’s all it did.”
      This is simply not true.

      In fact the referendum changed Article 40.3.3 to read: Provision may be made by law for the regulation of termination of pregnancy.

  5. dav

    I think those fundie GP’s should be provided with a Child of Prague that they can place in the windows of their surgery’s. Therefore women in need of medical care will know not to go in and be refused..

    1. Mickey Twopints

      Wouldn’t a sacred heart picture with a little red neon crucifix bulb under it be a better signal?

  6. Joe Small

    Thankfully we now have legalised abortion in Ireland. However, I think in terms of medical professionals, its fair that no one fundamentally opposed to abortion should have to carry one out and that’s already the case.

    This principle can’t extended everywhere though. People who remember the early 1990s will recall that many, many pharmacists (particularly in rural areas) refused to sell condoms on their basis of their Catholic beliefs and at a time where this was the only place to legally buy them. That was pure daft.

  7. Dub Spot

    I hate those long letters with multiple signatories in the Irish Times. Takes up room that could be filled by Paul Delaney of Dalkey.

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