First, I am sure the House would like me to put on record our sympathy for the family concerned in this most tragic and distressful case. As Judge Costello said in giving judgment in the High Court yesterday, "The events which have given rise to these proceedings are painful and distressing and have resulted in tragedy and suffering."
This sad case was the subject of a statement issued by the Attorney General on Thursday, 13 February, in which he drew attention to the fact that, in this matter, he was acting in the discharge of his independent and non-governmental duties under the Constitution in accordance with the principle laid down by the Supreme Court in cases of this kind.
In view, however, of the unique importance of the matter, both constitutionally and in a humanitarian sense, I now propose to outline for the information of the House the salient facts of the case. The circumstances, as they came to official notice, are as follows
The parents of a 14½ year old girl discovered that she was pregnant. They were informed by her that this was due to an act of sexual intercourse without her consent. The parents informed the Garda a few days later, on 30 January, and the Garda proceeded to investigate the complaint. In the course of this investigation the parents informed the Garda that they proposed to bring their daughter to England for the purpose of having an abortion, and they requested the Garda to arrange that scientific tests be carried out on the foetus in order to obtain evidence of the indentity of the father. The Garda informed the Director of Public Prosecutions of this request. In the light of the provisions of Article 40 of the Constitution, the Director considered it his duty to inform the Attorney General of the parents' intention of obtaining an abortion for their daughter, and he did so immediately on being informed of it by the Garda. This was at approximately 5 p.m. on Wednesday, 5 February.
The Attorney General informs me that, having considered the matter, he was in no doubt that, irrespective of his sympathy for the girl and her parents, his duty under the Constitution was to take whatever steps were necessary to protect the life which it was proposed to terminate. He, accordingly, directed that an application be made to the High Court for an interim injunction designed to preserve the life of the unborn child until such time as the court would have an opportunity of considering the case. This interim injunction was granted on the morning of Thursday, 6 February, and was effective until the following Monday morning, 10 February. The parents had travelled to London with their daughter early on Thursday but were informed of the granting of the injunction during the course of that day. They immediately returned to Ireland. At this point I wish to pay tribute to the parents and their daughter for their responsible attitude in most distressful circumstances.
The case was heard on Monday and Tuesday, 10 and 11 February, evidence was heard, and on the latter date Mr. Justice Costello reserved his judgment until yesterday. I have arranged to have copies of the judgment placed in the Dáil Library.
At this point I want to emphasise that the form which the proceedings took was the normal one provided for by law, namely, the immediate seeking ex parte of an interim injunction to preserve the status quo pending the hearing of the case; and the hearing of the whole proceedings in camera in order to protect the identity and privacy of the family and to avoid increasing their distress.
I would like to emphasise that the whole proceedings were taken under civil law. The criminal law is not involved, so that there is no question of a woman in such circumstances being criminalised.
As regards any involvement of the Government, there was none at any stage. Neither I nor any member of the Government was aware of the intention of the Attorney General to seek the injunction and I first became aware of it on Tuesday last, 11 February. As Mr. Justice Costello points out in his judgment, the Attorney General's duty was in no doubt, and that duty was one which he must fulfil independently of the Government.
Deputies will note that the court in its judgment said that, in addition to his role as legal adviser to the Government, the Constitution imposes on him duties which he must fulfil independently of the Government and that: "the Attorney General is an especially appropriate person to invoke the jurisdiction of the court in order to vindicate and defend the right of life of the unborn". Acting as required by the Supreme Court, "the Attorney General instructed counsel to apply to the High Court so that the court could, in the light of the facts to be established before it, make an appropriate decision".
I would, in fact, like at this point to answer further those who have suggested that the Attorney General, having been informed of the proposal to bring the girl to England for a termination of pregnancy, should have turned a blind eye to the requirements of the highest law in the land, the Constitution. I reject that suggestion.
I do not believe that the people of this country want — or deserve — a situation of nods and winks in the application of the law. If the principal law officer of the State were to engage in such conduct in the present case, how could he ever again be trusted to observe the Constitution or the law in any future situation where there might be an obvious temptation, from whatever motive — or where there might appear to be a temptation — for him to take the easy way out and ignore the Constitution and the law? That might please some of the people for a short time but in the long run it would do very great harm to our country. In the words of the High Court judgment, "the duty of the Attorney General in the circumstances [of this case] cannot be in doubt".
The part of the Constitution most immediately involved is Article 40.3.3 which provides:
The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right.
Obviously it would be neither humane nor wise to go, in further detail, into the specific case on which the judgment involving this article was made. That judgment is long and detailed and it would not, I think, be productive for us in this House to jump to immediate solutions. The whole matter, involving as it does, the most basic human rights and specific provisions of our Constitution, and which is of deep public concern, especially to women, requires the most careful and detailed consideration on which the views and experience of the House can be brought to bear.
I propose, therefore, to invite party leaders to discussions with me as a matter of urgency on the general issues as distinct from the special and tragic circumstances of the case; and if this course is generally acceptable I would propose that we would make the necessary arrangements soon through the Whips.