Ban on Termination of Young Girl's Pregnancy: Statements.

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.

I should like at the outset to reiterate my regret that this debate is so confined and that other Members of this House — in particular women Members — will not be able to take part in it.

Fine Gael feel deep sympathy with those involved in this tragic case. We feel in particular for the girl and her family who found themselves faced with such a heart-rending dilemma. As victims of a crime they found that, in effect, they were being placed on trial. The law as it is now interpreted creates an atmosphere of trauma, fear and uncertainty. It also has effects far beyond what were originally intended and may, as I will later argue, lead to failure to report serious crime and to a significantly greater incidence of abortion.

Fine Gael refrained from all comment on this matter over the weekend. We did not believe any good would be served by comment on the case in advance of publication of the judgment. Now that the judgment has been made public, however, we have an obligation to draw conclusions from it for public policy for the future. In a statement issued yesterday Deputy Shatter, the Fine Gael spokesman on Justice, set out some of the consequences of yesterday's judgment. It is clear that those consequences were not the stated intention of many of those who promoted this amendment to the Constitution in 1983. They said indeed at the time that the amendment would not alter existing laws, as it now seems it has done.

It is also arguable that what is now happening in regard to law enforcement in this area may well go beyond what is "practicable", to use the word of the prolife amendment. If this happens it may bring the law on this subject into disrepute and have the perverse — and unintended — effect of promoting abortion. As Fine Gael oppose abortion we would not wish this to happen.

At the time the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution was adopted, the view was expressed by Fianna Fáil speakers promoting the wording of the amendment which was finally put to the people that it would not alter the existing law. The Fianna Fáil spokesman at the time, Deputy Woods, explained his party's choice of words, which are now in the Constitution, as follows: "we wanted to draft an amendment which would reflect the values held in common which would not alter the medical or legal status quo”. That, at least, was his intention.

Fine Gael, in contrast, expressed the fear that the amendment would — or could — at least alter the legal status quo. Deputy Noonan (Limerick East), Minister for Justice at that time, said, on behalf of our party, that the wording proposed by Deputy Woods and originally agreed to by others was ambiguous. He said: “another interpretation of the text which has been put to me by a very responsible authority as a probable interpretation is that it could require the State to make the 1861 Act more restrictive than it is which, I think, nobody has suggested as either necessary or appropriate”.

Later in the debate Deputy Woods, on behalf of Fianna Fáil, replied to this point as follows: "The proposed Fianna Fáil amendment will not alter the present Statute law or make it more restrictive; it will simply ensure that abortion on demand cannot be introduced without consultation with the people in a referendum". It is now clear, from the court judgment issued yesterday, that the courts are in fact interpreting this part of the Constitution in a way which does render the law more restrictive and are doing so in a fashion that the promoters, at least in this House, of that form of wording said at the time they did not intend or want. This creates a situation in which all concerned, whatever their original position in 1983, must review the position very carefully.

The history of this matter shows that instant comments or commitments are not necessarily the best way to promote durable and predictable solutions. It is open to argument whether the amended provision of the Constitution should in fact be interpreted in this way. I wish to make that argument. The Constitution, as amended, guarantees that the State in its laws will respect and "as far as practicable by its laws defend and vindicate the right to life of the unborn". I submit that there is room for argument as to what is "practicable" in these particular circumstances. There are grounds for questioning the practicality of the approach now being taken by the Attorney General and the courts.

The use of the Irish courts to injunct women proposing to travel to Britain may have an effect that, in practice, will undermine the original purpose of the constitutional amendment. The fear, for example, that pregnant women may be informed upon and be injuncted in this way may deter them from even discussing their situation with families and friends before making this decision. This could result in a precipitate decision to seek an abortion where a sympathetic and open discussion first with family and friends might have led to a different decision. Fine Gael would not wish this to happen.

There is also a concern, as the law is now being interpreted and developed, that women or girls who have been raped or who have been victims of incest will be unwilling to report these crimes. There is then the further concern that the present interpretation fails to recognise the danger that an over-intrusive enforcement of any law can do more harm than good in that it can bring the law itself into disrepute. There is a legitimate public interest in ensuring that a proper balance is maintained in this area.

In this context it is relevant to repeat that the constitutional amendment contained the words "as far as is practicable". There may be genuine practical difficulties if this particular interpretation of the constitution leads, for example, to conflict with the European Community Court. The Advocate General of the European Community Court in the course of an opinion — an opinion which found in favour of Ireland's ban on abortion information — said on the other hand that measures which would be disproportionate, by which I presume he means unacceptable, in as much as they would excessively impede the freedom to provide services would include, for example, a ban on pregnant women going abroad. In other words, the European Court could find that the now emerging legal situation would be, to use the Advocate General's word, "disproportionate". Therefore, we have a situation of uncertainty and conflict between two courts and doubt as to the law. I submit that nothing could be more undesirable than that kind of uncertainty.

Fine Gael are of the opinion that all of these problem areas require very careful and urgent consideration and that the law should not be allowed to develop in a way that could have the unintended consequences of increasing rather than reducing the actual incidence of abortion. It would also be extremely serious if this line of legal interpretation had the effect of reducing the willingness of people to report rape or incest cases. There is widespread public concern about the prevalence of these crimes. The damage to victims of either incest or rape is incalculable and permanent. Already there is grave concern among those working in this area that there is widespread reluctance on the part of victims to report either rape or incest. Indeed it has been suggested that the number of rapes actually reported is only a tiny proportion of those actually taking place.

If this judgment has the effect of reducing still further the level of reporting of such crimes, this would worsen the problem and would be entirely unacceptable. There is also the risk that hearings of the kind which occurred yesterday could undermine subsequent prosecutions of persons actually guilty of rape on the grounds that they could claim that such proceedings prejudiced their trial if the judgments were published. This point ought to be considered with some care as well.

The Fine Gael Front Bench said yesterday that they would consider any reasonable proposals put forward by the Government. I regret that no proposals have been put forward by the Government today. As I have said, care must be taken to ensure that any proposed solutions do not add to the uncertainty of this very difficult and sensitive area of law. In this context, I regret the Government have not even given an outline or the beginnings of a suggestion of any approach to a solution in this debate. Notwithstanding that, I wish to say on behalf of the Fine Gael Party that I am willing to take part in the discussions proposed by the Taoiseach. However, I should like to know in advance, either privately or otherwise, whether the Government will table proposals at this meeting, as is I believe the responsibility of the Executive in any parliamentary system of Government. I should also like to know if the Taoiseach will be accompanied by his legal advisers so that obviously I could be similarly accompanied. We should ensure that the findings and agreements reached at the meeting are formally noted so that there will be no subsequent misunderstanding. On those bases and other bases which may be communicated subsequently, I am willing on behalf of the Fine Gael Party to take part with the Taoiseach in any discussions of this kind which could be helpful in finding a solution to this truly traumatic and tragic problem.

Now that there has been some time to examine yesterday's judgment of the High Court in detail, it is both possible and necessary to draw some conclusions. I recognise that that must be done with care. First, I wish to make some points about the legal implications of the judgment.

The first thing that has to be said is that this judgment represents new law, and that the new law involved has the most frightening potential consequences, above and beyond the present case. Effectively, the High Court have decided that it is appropriate and right that a citizen of Ireland can be prevented from travelling abroad for purposes that are entirely legal in the jurisdiction abroad. Further, the court have decided that the State is right to intervene in a matter which, in every other country in the western world, would be considered an entirely private family affair.

In making that decision, the court have left behind a clear definition, for the first time, of a constitutional provision that most people — both those who campaigned against it and those who campaigned for it — always thought was an aspiration. That definition is sufficiently clear for us to be able to predict that in the future, the courts will grant injunctions in similar circumstances against any woman, except a woman who is in imminent physical danger of her life. It will not matter if the woman is a child, or if she has been the victim of an evil and depraved act like incest, or if she is mentally handicapped. All that will matter is that the moment she becomes pregnant, under the terms of our Constitution she is carrying something that is more precious than she is.

Secondly, it also seems clear that injunctions will be available to anyone wishing to prevent an abortion, including any evil and depraved man who wishes to force his victim to carry a child conceived through violence.

I do not believe the great majority of people who voted to protect the unborn ever saw it that way. I do not believe the great majority of people who voted to protect the life of the unborn were voting to inflict such pain and heartbreak on a 14 year old girl and her family.

However, two questions remain, and they must be asked. It is implicit throughout the judgment that the High Court have jurisdiction over acts carried out outside Ireland — acts which are completely legal except in Ireland — but nowhere is it explained from what source the court derive this jurisdiction.

If we are to accept that citizens of Ireland can be freely prevented from travelling abroad for any purpose except a clearly legal purpose, then we need to have it explained to us on what basis we have ever assigned this power to our courts. Is it now open to the courts to prevent an Irish woman visiting a clinic in London where she might be given abortion information? Is it open to them to prevent an Irish woman reading a magazine in Heathrow Airport that might advertise an abortion clinic?

The second question is equally important. The High Court appear to have accepted, on the basis of a precedent, that there was an obligation on the Attorney General to act once he was in possession of information. While I fully accept the right of the High Court to accept this interpretation, I cannot find it in the case referred to, Attorney General v. Open Door Counselling Ltd. 1988, which describes the Attorney General as “an especially appropriate person to ... vindicate and protect the right to life of the unborn”, but which does not impose an obligation on the Attorney General to do so without regard to any other circumstances.

In fact, I would argue, notwithstanding anything said by the High Court, that if the Attorney General has a role in this matter, it must be discharged having regard to both of the provisions of the Constitution. The Constitution obliges the State to guarantee in its laws to respect, and as far as practicable by its laws, to defend and vindicate the right to life of the unborn. However, in doing so, the Constitution also says that the State shall have due regard to the equal right to life of the mother.

Whatever about the role of the court, we must question the efforts made by the Attorney General to establish the condition of the mother involved before making his decision. Was he aware, for example, that a number of the gardaí involved in the case were gravely concerned about the psychological wellbeing of the child involved, as emerged in evidence to that effect to the court? What other inquiries, if any, did he make on this point? It is clear that if the Attorney General had instituted such an inquiry which could have been entirely informal, he would have been in possession of a great deal more information on which to base a decision, and that decision would have taken account, to the best of his ability, of the equal right to life of the mother.

The failure of the Attorney General to make any such inquiry was, in my view, a grave mistake. I have no way of knowing whether he would have reached a different judgment if he had inquired into the full circumstances of the case, but I strongly believe that he must accept an obligation, in respect of any decisions of this kind, to be fully apprised of all of the circumstances.

It appears that the argument has been made, and accepted by the court, that the Attorney General has no discretion in any situation where he has come into possession of information that an act may be carried out which is contrary to the Constitution. If that is the case, can we now have outlined to us the steps the Attorney General proposes to take to police the thousands of women who leave Ireland every year for the purposes of securing an abortion? Can we have outlined to us the steps he proposes to take to prevent people watching banned films, or reading banned books? Can we have outlined to us the steps he proposes to take to prevent people entering into divorces or re-marriages which are illegal in this jurisdiction, but perfectly legal in others?

There is another side to this issue which has nothing to do with law or the Attorney General. There is always the possibility in any family that a young daughter can be the victim of sexual violence. No matter how we try to protect against it, there will not be a father or mother in Ireland who has not worried about this possibility. In any loving family where that happens, the family will discuss it and try to deal with it in the best way possible for them. In many families, indeed I would suggest in the great majority of Irish families, the possibility of abortion will not arise. But has it ever occurred to anyone that that sort of heartbreaking, intensely personal and intimate family decision, will have to be taken in the shadow of the High Court? How have we come to a situation where the State has felt obliged to take onto itself the role of family policeman when tragedies like this occur?

This is not an argument about more liberal abortion, or even about the introduction of abortion in Ireland. The people in their wisdom have decided that issue. It is arguable, I suppose, that the Attorney General might have felt compelled to act as he did even without the explicit provisions of the Constitution. Public policy must be decided, and the onus for initiating and deciding appropriate public policy lies with the Executive and the legislature in the first instance. We cannot have a public policy which says that an English abortion only becomes a crime if you tell anyone about it. We cannot have a public policy that relies on preventing citizens from leaving the jurisdiction for legal purposes. We cannot have a public policy that encourages women to hide the fact of rape in order to ensure that no-one will know how they deal with the consequences of rape. We cannot have a public policy which acts as a kind of "Blackmailer's Charter" and which enables women who are pregnant to be placed under intolerable pressures. Above all, I do not see how we can have a public policy which says to children, to mentally handicapped young people, to physically disabled young people, to victims of sexual violence; "you have a right to life if your life is imminently threatened by a pregnancy, but you do not have a right to sanity, to health, to emotional stability, to begin to repair a life that has been shattered".

It is implicit in Article 40.3.3º of the Constitution that the State will legislate to protect the life of the unborn and to have regard to the equal right to life of the mother. We have never done so. We have preferred to turn a blind eye in the hope that this issue would never arise, but it has arisen and we can turn a blind eye no longer. We must now declare and enact a public policy, as consistent as we can make it with the terms of our Constitution, that protects the rights of families, and above all the rights of victims of this horrible situation. It may not be possible to do so, and in that event we may have to reopen the whole constitutional issue. As the first step, I believe that the Government should request the Law Reform Commission to prepare an urgent report on the "laws" made necessary by Article 40.3.3º and by this judgment.

Today, there is one family that we all know of that are suffering the kind of trauma and despair that every family dreads. There is one family that we know of today, but there are hundreds more whose despair has never been highlighted. We cannot blithely ignore the fate of such families, who are described in Article 41.1.1º of the Constitution as "the natural primary and fundamental unit group of Society, and as a moral institution possessing inalienable and imprescriptible rights, antecedent and superior to all positive law". I know this is a difficult political issue. All of us who lived through the 1983 referendum know the fear that can be generated around this whole issue. No more than anybody else, I do not want to re-live that campaign, or reopen the wounds that bled for a long time then, but we cannot simply hope that somebody else's suffering will go away. We have to act now. I will certainly accept the Taoiseach's offer of a meeting and I hope to take it from this statement here today, that it will be merely a preliminary meeting with a view to getting down to the work that is both necessary and urgent to ensure this does not happen again.

I am quite happy to accept the invitation of the Taoiseach to meet with him to discuss this matter. The primary focus of all our concern must be the plight of the unfortunate 14 year old girl who is at the centre of this case. The girl is still legally a child. She has already been the victim of an illegal violation of her body by a man described in the High Court yesterday by Mr. Justice Costello as "depraved and evil". At any time such an experience would have been a dreadful ordeal, but now the girl's trauma has been multiplied many times over by the rigid and insensitive application by the State of the ill-considered, sectarian and unnecessary amendment to the Constitution which was foisted on the Irish people. What exactly does the State hope to achieve by subjecting the child to this further ordeal? What is this going to do to the health and welfare of this young girl? How many Deputies in this House who are parents of young girls could put their hands on their hearts and say that they would not have taken the same course as the parents of this child?

While the immediate victim of this court case is this young girl, the potential victims of it are every woman who opts for a pregnancy termination, every woman or girl who is raped or who is the potential victim of a rape. An appalling legal precedent has been created which will haunt every Irish woman and girl. The Attorney General has displayed an appalling insensitivity and lack of judgment in taking this case. I do not believe that anyone other than a minority of fanatics would have wanted him to haul this young girl through the courts, and he should now resign from his position.

That is nonsense.

The Deputy is wrong.

It is not the intention of the Chair to upset in any way the tender situation which is before the House. I think that Deputy De Rossa will accept that to attribute to the Attorney General, whose right it is to interpret the legislation as it exists, or subsequently to the High Court, any non-bona fides in the matter of his interpretation of the law would not be in accordance with the best traditions of this House.

We should not bring personalities into it.

It is not right to interrupt our Leader.

Deputy Byrne, I said initially that I do not want to disturb what I would regard as the appropriate atmosphere for the statements but I am appealing to Deputy De Rossa, in accordance with the best tradition of this House, not to impugn the Attorney General or the High Court in respect of decisions they have made.

It is not——

I am addressing Deputy De Rossa, Leader and spokesperson of The Workers' Party and appealing to him to deal with the matter in an orderly way.

I reject any implication that I am out of order. I have made a statement with regard to my opinion about the judgment of the Attorney General. I have not implied any miscarriage of his duty. I have expressed an opinion that I regard the decision he made as an appalling misjudgment. I am entitled to make that opinion known in this House and I will not be prevented from doing so. I consider it quite extraordinary that despite the fact that it takes years to bring serious criminals to court, within five days of the Garda being notified of a young girl whose parents intended to take her to Britain for an abortion, the Attorney General brought an injunction against those parents. It is quite appalling that this procedure can be put into operation almost immediately in these circumstances. I reject also that the Attorney General has no right to exercise discretion in cases such as this. If we are to insist on the rigid application of the law in every single circumstance, virtually every citizen of this State would be before the court next week. Let us have a little common sense.

Deputy De Rossa, I really do not——

Let us have a little common sense in this matter.

I suggested that the decision of the Attorney General was subsequently accepted by the High Court and you are also impugning the High Court.

Do not tempt me to start talking about the court, please.

The Deputy will not tell the Chair how to interpret his duties.

I am asking you not to tempt me.

Forget about the Chair.

Deputy McCartan, you will be asked to leave if you do not behave.

One consequence of this court case——


He will make it in accordance with the Order of the House; he will not intimidate the Chair, and neither will you.

One consequence of this court case will almost certainly be to discourage victims of rape from reporting the matter to the Garda. Victims will fear that by reporting rape they too will become targets of the Attorney General's zeal should they become pregnant. The ones to gain most from the Attorney General's legal move will be the rapists who will now go undetected and unpunished. Parents whose children are abused will be reluctant to report the matter to the authorities lest they too will have their options restricted by court action. The parents of this child acted in an honourable and responsible manner, yet their reward has been to be dragged through the courts and have, I imagine, their hearts broken.

The Taoiseach in his speech today said that the civil law was used. He did not even say that in this case the child is not subject to civil law; he said that there is no question of a woman in such circumstances being criminalised. Is he not aware that the 1861 Offencees Against the Person Act, criminalises any person over seven years of age who procures an abortion? What is going on here? As usual in this House, we are talking in double speak, refusing to address ourselves to the human realities in our society.

Another repugnant aspect of this case is the manner in which the Attorney General sought to keep his unprecedented court action secret from the Irish people and the use of what came very close to legal threats against those who sought to raise the matter. If the Attorney General were acting in the name of the Irish people, then surely the Irish people had a full and unqualified right to know of the action, the manner of its conduct, and the outcome of the case. Indeed, we as a society owe a debt of gratitude to The Irish Times, which first drew attention to the court case and to other media that subsequently recognised that the public interest required that this case should be covered.

Eight years on, it is clearer than ever that that sectarian and divisive amendment which was introduced in response to intensive lobbying by right wing fundamentalist groups, has been a disaster. Those politicians and parties who in 1983 shamelessly co-operated with right wing religious groups in forcing this amendment through must share responsibility with the Attorney General for the legal humiliation and degradation to which this girl has been subjected. In that regard, I do not exclude the leaders of either Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil who were involved at that time.

The Workers' Party were the only party in the House to totally and unambiguously oppose the amendment. Many of the warnings we gave about the likely consequences of this measure have, all too tragically, been shown to be accurate.

The 1983 file contains a statement made by Dean Griffin, who has since retired. In 1983 he said that if the amendment were to succeed and the life of the mother were interpreted by the courts as merely physical life, then abortion for, say, rape, incest or deformity of the foetus would be unconstitutional and a criminal offence. Thus the generally held Protestant ethical view that would allow abortion as a last resort in certain unfortunate, exceptional cases as the lesser of two evils would be outlawed by the Constitution. Dean Griffin warned us in 1983, yet we went ahead with the amendment.

Already we have seen the forced closure of pregnancy counselling clinics. That has not done anything to reduce the number of women going to England for abortions but it has meant that women who face this sad, lonely, painful, human dilemma are denied the skills of trained counsellors to help them. We have seen what amounts to a virtual legal witch hunt against students. We have seen serious medical publications that deal with a wide range of health issues in a serious and informed way forced off library shelves like some smutty, pornographic magazine. And now we have seen this legal action against a young rape victim.

What will be the next chapter in this constitutional horror story? Will it be the questioning or the pregnancy testing of women travelling abroad? It is clear, as yesterday's judgment indicates, that the Attorney General now has a responsibility to check the exit ports and airports of this State to make sure that the law is not being broken. If the Attorney General is to apply such zeal to the case of a 14 year old girl, then let us finish the job.

There is much hypocrisy in Irish society about abortion. Everyone is against it, yet at least 4,000 Irish women travel to Britain each year for abortion. Most experts believe that the real figure is much higher, as many Irish women give British addresses and are then not included among the Irish figure. But even the 4,000 recorded abortions is a very substantial figure. There are about 53,000 live births each year, which means that at least 7 per cent of all Irish pregnancies end in termination in Britain. Everyone is against abortion, but these 4,000 women are someone's wives, daughters, girl friends and sisters.

When are we as a society and a Parliament going to stop burying our collective heads in the sand, and face up to a problem that is not going to go away? When are we going to face up to the fact that an increasing number of Irish women regard this amendment as repugnant? When are we going to face up to the fact that many members of minority religions — as they pointed out in 1983 — regard the provisions of the amendment as grossly sectarian and offensive to their traditions and ethics?

When are we going to face up to the fact that this amendment has been a disaster which has given rise to appalling consequences? I do not believe the majority of those who voted for this amendment in 1983 would ever have contemplated that it was going to lead to such legalised cruelty against a young girl. I am convinced that, in the light of what has happened, there would be a very different result if the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution was put to the people again tomorrow in a referendum.

Those who have been so shocked and appalled by this case must now begin preparing the ground for a further referendum to remove this hideous provision from our Constitution. There is no other way. As long as this provision remains within the Constitution we are going to have more cases like this. This issue can be a test of the new Taoiseach's commitment to a more humane approach. Can he — unlike his predecessor — display the political courage to stand up to the zealots and insist that this amendment has no place in the constitution of a modern democratic state? If he can he will earn the gratitude not just of every woman but of every genuine democrat in the country.

Uimhir a 16. I am calling Deputy Garland——

A Leas-Cheann Comhairle——

Deputy Garland moved the——

May I raise a point of order, please?

I wish to put on the record my protest at the action of the Government in disallowing——

Deputy, that is not a point of order.

——women Members to put their view on the record of this House.

That is not a point of order.

I want to put on the record my protest at this Government disallowing women to speak in this debate. The Taoiseach further compounded the exclusion of women by inviting only the leaders of all parties to address the general issues raised by the case.

I call Item No. 4, Criminal Evidence Bill, 1992, Order for Second Stage.

May I have one minute of this Dáil's time?

We now move on to——

May I comment on behalf of the women of Ireland and the women in this forum who have been excluded from making statements on this issue, that this is a reflection of the exclusion of women in all structures of our society. I want that noted.