Regulation of Information (Services outside State for Termination of Pregnancies) Bill, 1995: Second Stage (Resumed).

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

This measure has all the hallmarks of rushed legislation, a hastily cobbled together Bill which the Minister hopes to pass into law before the electorate can be fully apprised of its contents. He hopes to take advantage of what he believes is a consensus on this measure, but he is sadly mistaken. He is trying to push out the parameters of abortion information much wider than what the electorate gave approval for and he wants to get it over with quickly as is evidenced by the late sittings of the House this week. The Minister does not have the stomach to deal with this matter and has probably been advised, as in the words of Macbeth: "if it were done when it is done, then it is well it were done quickly." In Macbeth's case he was about to commit murder most foul, and what the Minister proposes today will result in the deaths of many innocent children unless the legislation is altered radically.

The absence of Government speakers on this Bill confirms it is being rammed through the House without proper regard for the importance of its contents. The Minister has ample precedent for wanting to rush through legislation on the nod. Am I not correct in that when he was Minister for Justice some years ago he appeared on national television one Thursday to assure the nation that urgently needed legislation would be put through the Oireachtas the following week, the subject of which legislation was the legalising of slot machines and one armed bandits, after an unfavourable court decision had limited their use? That is the type of legislation which this Minister considered a priority. If I hear him talk of Fianna Fáil being influenced by pressure groups, I will excuse him because I know he is speaking from experience.

I am not a spokesperson for the pro-life lobby or other pressure groups. I accept their right to campaign on a particular issue but the methods of some groups are extreme. I do not see this as a Catholic Church — or indeed any other church — issue, it is a question of right or wrong, what is acceptable in our society and what has been approved and accepted by the people in the democratic privacy of the polling booth. That and only that is at stake.

I would like the Minister to be a little more democratic. The country has waited for two and a half years already and would wait some weeks or months to get it right. I think the people would prefer to get it right than to rush through this badly prepared, ill timed and radically flawed Bill. This Bill is too important not to have it examined in depth. It is being introduced on foot of a constitutional amendment, and few believe that if it is ever passed into law it will not find its way to the Supreme Court. If we are to consider this flawed Bill the Minister will have to give a great deal more detail and accept many substantial amendments on Committee Stage.

I am glad he dropped what were reported to be some very extreme proposals in what has become known as the "Howlin Bill", and, contrary to what has been rumoured, no Bill was ever brought to the Fianna Fáil Party during the term of the previous Government.

You were the people who agreed to it without seeing it.

I am assured by the Fianna Fáil Ministers in that administration that it was never brought to Cabinet. For reports about that measure we can rely only on what has been leaked to the media — a practice that seems to have been brought to a fine art by this Government. It is sad that in changing that previous proposal, if it ever existed, the Minister did not avail of the opportunity to bring it into line with what was approved in the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution.

I am totally opposed to abortion, whether carried out in Britain or any other jurisdiction, and I am equally opposed to having such a service available in this country. This is the only jurisdiction for which Members have a responsibility and we can ensure only that what happens here is in accordance with the wishes of the people and the law of the land. I accept that as part of the democratic process we must reflect in legislation what the people have instructed us to do but we must confine ourselves strictly to what we were authorised to do. Our party spokesperson on Health, Deputy Geoghegan-Quinn, has already indicated that she will table substantial amendments on Committee Stage. We must ask ourselves whether it is correct to oppose the Bill on Second Stage. The overwhelming opinion in the Fianna Fáil Party at parliamentary level and in the broader membership is that this measure is seriously — and in my view terminally — flawed and needs to be completely redrafted.

We have been charged with political cowardice and hypocrisy, I resent that and deny it in the strongest possible terms. It would be easy for me to bury my reservations and objections to this measure as so many Deputies on the Government side have done during the past week and thus avoid the criticism that I will inevitably attract. The criticism and cynicism very often emanates from those who do not have to test their policies and theories in the forum that counts, the ballot box. Their vague and gratuitous barbs and criticisms can serve only to undermine public confidence in the democratic process. Fianna Fáil still allows room for dissent and individual conscience. If such a luxury were available in the Government parties today, this measure would never have seen the light of day. This Bill is months before its time because what we will enact if this Bill survives may be radically affected by the outcome of the Well Woman case, yet to be heard in the High Court. Without the court rulings on that case, which will probably define "information" in the context of the abortion debate, it is foolhardy, at least, a little mischievous at best and a flagrant waste of the time of this House to proceed further but we must if the Minister insists on going ahead.

What did the people vote for in the 1992 referenda when they passed the following amendment?

This subsection shall not limit freedom to obtain or make available in the State, subject to such conditions as may be laid down by law, information relating to services lawfully available in another State.

The people in their traditional generosity would not deprive the population of what were described by a very wide cross section of informed opinion at the time as civil rights, that is the right to information and the right to travel. That is as they were represented and what the people accepted but they called a halt to the substantive amendment and for the second time in not much more than ten years decided that Ireland should be an abortion free zone. Commentators choose to call this hypocrisy but once more, as in so many cases in the past, they have not given the plain people of this country credit for understanding issues that can be made unnecessarily complex by their political leaders and media gurus. How many times must the people say that they do not want abortion in this country before the legislators accept that? What the Minister has laid before us is the first chink in the armour of the defence against abortion. His electorate will not thank him for they know instinctively what he is about and that in this measure he is not reflecting either their wishes or the terms of the amendment.

One important aspect in the interpretation of legislation is to establish the intent, the goal of those who frame the law, in other words what was in the mind of the Oireachtas when it asked the people to vote for freedom of information. I think the clearest definition of that intent and the Government's public commitment to the people is that part of the text which the then Government, the sponsors of the legislation, circulated in its booklet at the time:

The amendment would permit non-directive counselling but not abortion referral... The legislation will not be permitted to promote abortion.

Quite clearly the proposals before us would frustrate those commitments, yet the Minister brazenly states that the Bill which he is now proposing is precisely in line with the understanding given to the electorate at that time. Can he really be serious? In addition, the then Minister specifically refused to allow the words "counselling" and "assistance" as suggested by the Labour Deputies to be inserted into the amendment as that would clearly provide for directive counselling and referral. How much clearer does it have to be? If that is splitting hairs, I make no apology because that is our precise function at the time of framing legislation. At the other end of the process the courts are required to do likewise. If we discharged our functions better, perhaps the courts would have fewer loose ends to tidy up on our behalf.

What constitutes information in the context of this proposal? There is no doubt in my mind and in that of the overwhelming majority of our people that the latitude to be granted by the 1992 amendment meant that people could freely give and receive factual information about the nature of abortion and its physical and psychological effects on women. I believe it is still contrary to the provisions of the Constitution and the law to give information on the identity and location of clinics which facilitate abortion in another jurisdiction.

On a point of information, Sir, will the Deputy not accept that the then Minister for Health at that time stated clearly on RTE that the proposed amendment included access to names and addresses?

I believe that in the view of the Supreme Court this would constitute assistance in bringing about the destruction of the unborn, as was held in the Open Door and Grogan judgments. What constitutes abortion referral? Does giving names and addresses of clinics and doctors fulfil this role? Does that imply promotion of abortion? In my mind there is no doubt that the answer is "yes" on both counts. For generations doctors were not allowed to attach their names to any publicity, even to the extent that they were broadcast anonymously on the sound media.

Those of us who can cast our minds back will remember that on Radio Éireann on a Thursday at 6.20 p.m. the continuity announcer would tell the nation: "There will now be a health talk given by a doctor". No name was mentioned because it was deemed that to do so would have been to advertise and promote the individual doctor.

If a constituent of mine is going to another part of the country and has a problem which needs to be dealt with in that area, the person may look for my advice. If I mention an individual or individuals who can help but do not specifically recommend that she consult them, am I still not promoting those named colleagues above those whom I choose not to mention? There is an advertising industry based on mentioning particular product names in places where normal advertising is not allowed. In the advertisement free BBC, a mention can be worth a fortune. In some cases this is called sponsorship. Will not a passing mention of a product or person by the audience on the "Late Late Show" be as good as a series of 30 second advertisements on radio or television? It is called promotion. There is no need to beat a person about the head to get a message across about a particular promotion. A mention in a receptive ear is considered to be quite sufficient and no one has a more receptive ear than a person with a problem.

If a motorist is passing through a town with which he is unfamiliar and his car gets a puncture, a kindly passerby may help to change the flat tyre. He may also mention where the tube can be mended and give the names, addresses and hours of opening of garages which carry out repairs. Is this not referral? A service is required and an outlet mentioned. Housewives recommend supermarkets and refer their friends to them for particular purchases. Business representatives get cards in the expectation that they will see a percentage of them in their showrooms eventually. Where would the illicit drugs trade be without the referral system? Giving a name, address and telephone number is either an invitation or a referral, depending on where the information originates. The list is endless because the only reason you can give such names or addresses is to enable those to whom they are given to use the service recommended.

In any dismal situation there is a bright spot and one redeeming feature of this Bill is the statutory provision regarding funding for pregnancy counselling. I commend the Minister for that. One argument put forward for supporting the Bill, not by the Minister, is that the funding envisaged will be withdrawn if the Bill fails. The Minister must be aware of the vital necessity for such extra funding and I ask him to commit himself to providing that money regardless of the fate of the Bill. That would be a true test of the Minister's commitment to cherish the pregnant women of this nation equally with their less needy counterparts. The support provided by the Department for the various voluntary agencies which provide counselling, such as CURA, LIFE and Cherish, is a paltry £70,000. I welcome the commitment to increase this to £200,000 but I urge the Minister to provide that funding regardless of whether the Bill is passed or defeated.

I accept that Irish women will still go abroad for abortion irrespective of what happens to the Bill. However, that does not mean that we as a nation or those women individually reject the underlying principle that abortion is wrong. There is no guarantee that those who, for whatever reason, find themselves in a British abortion clinic would support the provision of abortion in Ireland. For many of them, it is a once off solution to a perceived problem and they may be opposed to abortion in principle. I query the Minister's figures on the number of Irish women having abortions in Britain. There is no guarantee that a woman who gives an Irish name and address is Irish. An Irish name and address can be merely a convenience. I have it on the best authority that on a visit to such a clinic an investigator found recently that 23 out of 25 women who gave an Irish address were not from this island.

We must ask what kind of society we want for our children and what kind of society we have already provided for them. While I do not support the theory that Ireland is down the tubes it must be apparent to even the most casual observer that we have settled for lower standards in recent years. How else can we account for the spate of bizarre murders which have been reported on the front page of newspapers, the state of siege in which our elderly live in the large centres of population, the rise in drug addiction, alcoholism and solvent abuse, the rise in the rate of crime, daylight raids and attacks and the spiralling suicide rate which claims younger and younger victims each year? We have abandoned all pretence of discipline. We have deprived our children of the strength which the old fashioned sanctions on unacceptable behaviour provided for us. We have eliminated even the most minimal corporal punishment in schools but have not given any effective alternative to teachers and school administrators. We frown on correction in the home with questionable billboard campaigns about it being wrong to slap a child — a dangerous whispering campaign. We have ridiculed churches which gave a lead in the past and have availed of every opportunity to reduce their influence on the population, all in the name of liberalism and pluralism. We have tied the hands of the Garda and left it open to ridicule from cheeky pre-teenagers and still expect to have trouble free neighbourhoods. We scoff at the notion of censorship, yet we decry the copycat violence portrayed in undesirable films and publications. We cannot have it both ways. Either we have acceptable standards and the means to encourage and enforce them or we have chaos.

Notice taken that 20 Members not present; House counted and 20 Members being present,

I had been talking about the type of society we want. Either we have acceptable standards and the means to encourage and enforce them or the resultant chaos that comes from the "anything goes, free for all" society. We have introduced legislation which would have been unthinkable 20 years ago. If a small but vociferous minority had their way we would have abortion on demand here too. We have gone down the road of liberalism too far for our own good; it is time to call a halt. If we do as the Minister suggests, for the first time, we shall be stating that abortion is right. We cannot, should not and will not do that.

At a time when we are endeavouring to get away from the killings and torture of the past 25 years, let us not prepare the ground for killing innocent children and the torture of women at their most vulnerable time, all for a seedy profit. I am convinced that is not the type of society the vast majority of our people want, deserve or have voted for. I urge the Minister to take back this Bill and return with it only when it has been reframed in accordance with the fourteenth amendment and after the courts have made their decision in the Well Woman case. Only then can we deal with it in a rational, expeditious and thorough manner.

One in 11 Irish pregnancies now ends in abortion. For most people they are extremely sad figures. The so-called pro-life movement is much more concerned with the theology of reproduction or referral than with the human pain lying behind the statistics. If the pro-life movement was genuinely and seriously concerned about abortion, if it seriously wished to reduce the numbers of women who feel abortion is the only way out of a crisis pregnancy, they would not be wasting our time, as legislators, by lobbying on the semantics of information versus referral. Does anyone seriously believe that one can persuade one pregnant girl in crisis to go through with her pregnancy by suppressing the names and addresses of clinics in the United Kingdom, tearing up the United Kingdom telephone directory or pulling the plug on directory inquiries? The very climate of ignorances it seeks to foster is the kind of climate in which women are more likely to make decisions they may later regret.

This is part of the same movement which sought to block the Stay Safe programme in schools to educate children in responsible sexuality, rendering them less vulnerable to child abusers and that sought to block funding to rape crisis centres. These are the people whose 1983 amendment to the Constitution brought about the X case. As the family's tragedy unfolded on our television screens Irish people began to face our ambivalence about the choices any of us would make in such difficult and tragic circumstances.

I believe most Irish people genuinely celebrate life. Giving birth is one of the most profound experiences anyone can have but what woman can honestly and genuinely say how she would react in a crisis pregnancy, what she would do if she were raped or carrying a handicapped child? What woman has not at some stage, even during the most wanted pregnancy, had ambivalent feelings towards the child she was carrying and the fact of the pregnancy itself?

Unless we begin to understand the pressures facing women in crisis pregnancies we cannot hope to persuade more of them to have a positive outcome to their pregnancy, to give birth to their baby. Women in a crisis need understanding, sympathy and practical help, not a rushed judgment. Four thousand Irish women had abortions in the United Kingdom last year; as we debate this Bill, another 80 will go. Did we persuade any of them to stay by failing to legislate for the provision of names and addresses of clinics? How do these women feel now as the righteous get on their soapboxes, as the workings of these women's bodies are dissected by the television moralists invading our livingrooms?

I spent two years as secretary of the national campaign for the homeless at a time when housing cutbacks were creating a homelessness crisis among single parents. The mullahs of the pro-life movement never came near us in the campaign for the homeless, they never addressed those real, practical issues which can turn an unplanned pregnancy into a crisis pregnancy.

When I was a teenager there were fewer unplanned pregnancies but those pregnancies usually ended up in one of two ways — marriage to the father before the birth or giving the baby up for adoption. I am glad the days of shotgun weddings are over, that women now wait before taking the momentous step of marriage and make their decisions independent of the fact of pregnancy; that is good. The choice to give one's baby up for adoption was never an easy one; to go through the physical and emotional experience of giving birth and handing over the baby to another family to rear is a huge wrench. Nowadays, when most women keep their babies, it is a choice which is also likely to carry a high degree of stigma for the woman who surrenders her baby. Addressing the stigma and pain of giving one's baby up for adoption is an important topic for our society to address.

I should also like to see further progress made in implementing the recommendations of the Robbins report on adoption. As a society I should like to see us take a mature, adult attitude to sexuality, relationships and parenthood. It is frightening that at least one in 11 pregnancies is a crisis one, to such an extent that the woman goes for an abortion. As well as offering support in a crisis, counselling and practical help, our society should be educating boys and girls, men and women, into responsible attitudes to relationships, contraception and the enormous and momentous responsibilities of parenthood. Education, information and openness are central if we want people to make adult choices and the attempted repression of information is a dangerous and misguided tool.

In 1992 the people were offered adult choices — to enshrine in our Constitution the right to travel, the right to information and to add to the 1983 Amendment a rider on the right to life, as distinct from the right to health, of the mother. The people made their choices in 1992; those choices are now part of our Constitution. The electorate voted by a margin of 60:40 per cent to give a constitutional right to travel and by the same margin to give a constitutional right to information and to reject any distinction being drawn between a mother's right to life and her right to health. The right to information is now a constitutional right, a constitutional imperative. Our duty, as legislators, is to legislate, to regulate that right. The Well Woman case is a red herring, the domestic judgments on that case predate the passing of the 1992 constitutional amendment on the right to information.

I am happy that this Bill provides an obligation for comprehensive counselling, that it regulates the provision of unsolicited information, whether by leaflets or on billboards. Many will be less happy that the Bill purports to criminalise doctors who make an appointment for their patients. I hope that nothing in those provisions will prevent any woman's full medical history being supplied to any clinic or prevent a doctor from providing appropriate aftercare for a patient who has had an abortion.

I am genuinely sad that members of Fianna Fáil and Deputy Harte have allowed themselves to be hijacked by an organised lobby whose remoteness from the reality of helping women with crisis pregnancies becomes more apparent every day. Having tasted blood that lobby is unlikely to go away quietly. We were all elected to do a job, of legislating for the realities of modern life, not to pander to cruelly disguised pressure tactics. We should all have learned the lesson of 1983 when the Pandora's Box of the Eighth Amendment was opened. While there are undoubtedly those who sincerely believe that these tactics promote the sanctity of human life, I remain appalled by the sheer hypocrisy of a movement which cares so passionately about the semantics and theology of referral and does so little for the thousands of pregnant women who regard their pregnancy as a crisis.

This Bill can probably be described as one of the most difficult Bills presented in this House for many years. I understand the strong views held by Members on both sides, I respect them and the right of individual Members to hold strong opinions in the circumstances in which we find ourselves. Therefore, it is regrettable that we should witness tactics outside the House, such as picketing Members' homes, or intimidation by the way of aggressive or abusive telephone calls, which are to be condemned and certainly do not do anything to enhance the status of those who engage in that type of practice.

I do not belong to any organisation that has been lobbying outside this House, nor have I been influenced in my views by them. I hold this position in accordance with my conscience and beliefs. I am a practising Roman Catholic. I have a duty to respect and acknowledge the teaching of that Church and I do not make any apologies for that. I would hope that my contribution would be seen in that context and that I would not be in any way considered as expressing a view that has come about as a result of pressure, influence or lobbying during the last number of weeks or indeed, over many years.

I disagree with the timing of the Bill. It comes at a time when both the High Court and Supreme Court may very well have to interpret what is at its core — the question of information and what constitutes information. There would never be an acceptable time for me to support a Bill like this. I could never support such a Bill at any time. However, while having regard to that, it should not be read by anybody that I am anti-woman or am ignoring what I consider was the intention of the voters in the 1992 referendum.

I am well aware of the crises that have affected, and continue to affect, thousands of women throughout our country. It makes for a sad story that in 1995, one has to witness women undergoing abuse, finding themselves in situations of great pressure, worry and isolation, having a sense of not knowing where to go, not being able to trust and being alone, desperate, fearful and suspicious. Many Irish women have to endure these feelings. It is not so much a reflection on them as on the society that has allowed this to continue to the present day. This so called modern society still allows women to be treated in such a way that they are almost abandoned.

Many of the difficulties women have to endure have come about as a result of their experiences throughout the decades. On many occasions, they found no apparent friendship or understanding either from the Church or the State. The caring society that we often refer to has not always been there for them. In such difficult situations, women have been compelled, for one reason or another, to feel that the only option open to them was that of abortion, even though they knew at the time that it was not the right one.

One must acknowledge the human difficulties that can exist when a woman unexpectedly finds herself pregnant. This situation can arise in all types of relationships, including those that are common in today's society. In the minds of many women, there are social and other justifications, as a result of having certain kinds of relationships, for feeling it necessary to describe their pregnancy as unplanned or unwanted. These women may decide they want to have an abortion because of the fear of losing their job, of being discovered or the fact that they do not want to tell their families or husbands. These situations are real.

One welcome measure announced by the Minister, although not contained in the Bill, is the provision of funding towards counselling. However, counselling must include education. It must not start when the crisis occurs but must be ongoing throughout our lives. Since we are talking about the crisis of pregnancy for certain women, counselling, education, care, protection and support and the correct information should be made available, encouraged and promoted from the start so that women will not feel obliged to live in a state of absolute fear, isolation and abandonment and, consequently, find that their only resort is to have an abortion.

Regardless of what the Bill contains, abortion is never an option; it is intrinsically wrong. If we are to deal with the difficulties of our society by the use of the crude and blunt instrument of abortion, we have not progressed or matured. I am a father of four young women who would share these views unashamedly.

The ever continuing drift towards abortion by women in difficulty has increased over the years. This has been encouraged by a number of recent events. A continuous campaign by a small minority with great authority and power has in many ways been able to manage and manipulate the media in favour of an abortion culture. Most of the campaigning in the past week or so has been pro-abortion. To be anti-abortion is perceived as being in some way abnormal or wrong. It is as if one is a backwoodsman or backwoods woman from Hicksville. That is insulting and degrading and says much about those who hold such ugly and denigratory views. The X case was a major development in recent years, it was a breakthrough for the pro-abortion lobby. It opened a door which had not previously been opened by this House or the courts. It achieved something new in that abortion was permissible in certain circumstances. It would be logical to conclude from that ruling that information relating to those circumstances might also be deemed to be an entitlement and lawful. The substantive issue, for which I did not vote, would have opened the door further but it was rejected by the people. Had it been passed it would have eliminated the consequences of the X case but it would have increased the opportunity for abortion in terms of the interpretation which would recognise the risks to the life of the mother.

The argument has been made that those of us who are anti-abortion are ignoring what was stated in the amendment to the Constitution. I do not believe people voted in the way it has been argued. In 1983 the Eighth Amendment, now Article 40.3.3º of the Constitution, gave expression to the right of the unborn child and its mother. In 1992 the rejection of the substantive issue clearly indicated a rejection of abortion. It was a logical sequence to the Eighth Amendment. To say the people voted for a type of information which is a contraction of all that has gone before suggests that they are not as politically aware as one would believe. It is an insult to suggest that the people voted for information that would assist abortion, which they had rejected. The rejection of abortion by the people is a rejection of it elsewhere. What the people want in this country they would expect to find elsewhere in the world. I do not believe the information the people voted for was intended to be anything other than what have I outlined.

The Title of the Bill, Regulation of Information (Services outside State for Termination of Pregnancies) Bill, 1995, is an extraordinary description of something which has been recognised as legally acceptable. The termination of a pregnancy is a recognised and acceptable obstetric practice to protect a mother and child and it is used before full term in that regard. It is extraordinary that the Bill is titled in this way. Termination of pregnancies is defined in the Bill as the "intentional procurement of miscarriages of women who are pregnant". In my opinion that is the intentional destruction of life.

Some so-called family planning associations hide behind certain euphemisms. Abortion referral, for example, is referred to as pregnancy counselling. Sex education has been described as life skills and population control is regarded as assessment for population assistance. These are acceptable euphemisms today. Section 2 assists a woman going to a clinic outside the State for an abortion. The provision in the Bill which allows other legitimate forms of counselling to be equal to abortion is extraordinary. Section 5 (b) (ii) provides for abortion information to be given along with information on keeping a child, adoption or fostering. It is extraordinary that abortion is given equal status to that of adoption and counselling. It is also extraordinary that a relative or friend is exempted from the strictures of section 5 in that a relative or friend can give such information. Does a relative or friend include a doctor? How does one define a relative or friend?

We have had abortion referral for many years. The argument has been made that abortion referral is not contained in this Bill and that the information to be given is intended to reduce the number of women seeking abortions. The Irish Family Planning Association has been engaged in abortion referral, as stated in its 1994 annual report which was launched by the former Minister for Health, Deputy Howlin. Given the type of information it provides, the pro-choice policy it exercises, the referral arrangement with the British Pregnancy Advisory Service whereby addresses and locations of that service are provided and its circumvention of the law, why have the referral activities of the Irish Family Planning Association not been investigated? Many questions have to be asked. Unless section 2, which provides for assistance, is removed there are no circumstances in which this Bill can be successfully amended. It is inherently wrong because of section 2.

Some 13 years after this debate began I am disappointed, to put it mildly, to find the same air of unreality about the debate today. We do not seem to have learned anything. Many people want to keep the blindfold over their eyes, ignore what is going on and pretend in legislation that things are not happening which we know perfectly well are happening.

I am unhappy about this Bill, particularly as I, and others, have concluded that this Bill represents the best that can be achieved politically in the present atmosphere in what passes for analysis of a social evil that we would all like to see reduced. If this represents the best that our political establishment can produce — I do not criticise the Minister, far from it — that 166 elected Deputies can give as a response to this problem, I feel downright discouraged by the closed-mindedness, obduracy and determination to look the other way of a substantial proportion of those 166 Deputies. Doublethink is still alive and well and living in Dáil Éireann.

We are letting down badly those who elect us and, in doing so, we are pandering to this nonsense that SPUC and PLAC peddled in 1982. They told us then that they did not like abortion being regulated by an 1861 Act of Parliament. They wanted an amendment to the Constitution so that politicians could not mess about with it. They got what they set out to get; they got the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution, without which the verdict in the X case could not have been possible.

These self-appointed arbiters of what is and is not acceptable in constitutional terms, are nothing more than bungling political amateurs. They have created the problem they thought they would solve and in doing so, have handed back the problem, curiously enough, to politicians. We now have to deal with the results of yet another referendum held in 1992 and those same people who gave us the constitutional amendment that made possible the verdict in the X case will not now accept those results.

I listened carefully to the debate and participated in it — but I listen a lot more than I participate — and I am convinced that at heart the people who still oppose this Bill, those who are ringing up Deputies all over the country, do not accept the results of the 1992 referendum. They are making spurious allegations that information is the same as referral, for example. If one listens to them carefully for long enough — I listened to one of their prime exponents and apologists last night — it is easy to conclude that they do not accept the result of the travel referendum of 1992.

They would happily go back to a situation where they would put people at the ports and airports to ask women why they were going abroad and if they thought there was the slightest chance they were going to have an abortion they would stop them. One does not have to listen to them for very long. Groups outside this House, Youth Defence and others, are actually saying they do not accept the result of that referendum. We hear them every day; they are now trying to tell us that when they voted in 1992 they were under some misapprehension. When they voted in 1992 they knew exactly what they were voting for but it does not suit them to accept it today.

I am damned if I will contemplate without protesting a situation where we will have this pressure coming again and again; where every few years we have another campaign to have another change in our Constitution so that these people can bungle it again and keep the same problem returning. They do not want to accept the democratic process. If that is their game let them say it; if they do not want to accept the democratic result of a democratically held referendum let them say they do not want to accept the democratic process. However, let them not send out their emissaries to try to accuse people who think like me of being in some way a recreation of Hitler's holocaust or Nazis simply because we accept the results of a democratic referendum, and we process legislation through this House as required by the results of that democratic referendum.

They do not know where they are starting from and Deputy Doherty has given us a particularly good example of that. If this Bill is not passed it would be possible to give information to women about abortion services available in other countries with no other qualification. That is possible today; it is what the 1992 information referendum gave us. It is now constitutionally sound to give such information. This Bill regulates the conditions in which that information can be given, regulates the type of information that can be given and specifically provides that the information cannot be given without counselling being given at the same time.

If I were to accept Deputy Doherty's starting point I would have to say, if I shared his view, that this Bill represents a net improvement in the position; that the passage of this Bill would do more to meet his concerns than it will to meet the concerns of many who take a different view from him. I find that provision excessively intrusive; I do not like and would rather stay away from a situation where the State gets so involved in regulating what people do, say, think and discuss with each other. However, it is a matter of objective fact that this Bill makes new requirements and puts new restrictions on the provision of information that are not in place at present and will not be there unless and until this Bill is passed. At present the information can be given without any counselling.

I note the Minister is giving a substantial amount of money to counselling services. In case I am accused of exaggerating let me say that the provision for those counselling services up to this year was £70,000 per annum; the provision the Minister is now making is £200,000 per annum — he is trebling the amount and that is a substantial increase. The total amount may not be huge but it is worth noting that not only is this Bill regulating and shaping the information that can be given, but it is making more resources available to give the information.

Most of the women who go to England for abortions — let us not use circumlocutions — do so without getting any counselling whatsoever. This Bill, to the extent that it will have an effect on those situations, will at least make sure that more women than is the case today will receive some kind of counselling before they go.

We are told the evidence suggests that where counselling is given, particularly counselling of the kind contemplated in this Bill, the result is that some of the women counselled decide not to have an abortion. There is agreement all around that counselling seems to have that effect, so that the effect of this Bill would be to help reduce the number of women having abortions in England. That is an objective that all of us in this House and on both sides of this argument can share. I cannot see why people who share that view are spending time opposing this Bill. It is very difficult to explain why people who hold the views that Deputy Doherty does, for example, are opposed to it. If there was any logic in their thinking they would want this Bill passed as quickly as possible.

The position of the main Opposition party is a very curious one. They do not want to make a decision on this Bill until there is a final decision given in some court case. They seem to have some difficulty in understanding what is meant by the information provisions in this Bill. I do not know what their motivation is, but whatever the reason, they are trying to suggest that information is in some way the same as referral. I wonder why they are taking that view. They did not take that view in 1992. I will cite, as the Minister did the other day, a pamphlet issued in 1992 by the Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrat Government which seemed to put the whole thing fairly clearly. In referring to the conditions under which information could be given, it asked the question, "What conditions will be laid down by law?" The answer was as follows:

The Government has said that the legislation will permit a doctor or advice agency to give a pregnant woman information on abortion services available elsewhere, provided that counselling is also given on all of the alternative options open to her. It will not be permitted to promote abortion, or to encourage the woman to select it in preference to the other options or to provide an abortion referral service.

Anybody reading that will come immediately to the conclusion that the people who wrote it understood that there was a distinction between information and referral, otherwise that paragraph would make no sense whatever.

Deputy Doherty's party, or at least those of them who were in Government and in communication with Government in 1992, knew that there was a very clear difference between information and referral. They also assured the public — a copy of this pamphlet was delivered to every household — that information would be given on abortion services available elsewhere, provided that counselling was also given on all the alternative options open to the woman who sought the information. In other words, they said to the public in 1992 that they would make the kind of provision in law that is contained in this Bill, and that they would make those provisions in regard to information which they regarded at the time as being separate and distinct from referral, as we do today.

I do not know what can have happened in the meantime to make members of the Fianna Fáil Party change their minds or to blur that distinction between information and referral. I cannot think of anything that would have happened to do so, except that they are now in Opposition. I did not like to say that, but I am forced to say it today because the Leader of that party is reported to have said last night he does not believe that on any given issue, a party in Opposition should take the same position as it would if it were in Government. For people who are arguing against the propriety of giving information about abortion — because they think abortion is wrong, and I agree with them — to make that kind of statement and put politics and the exercise of politics on any important issue into the domain of that kind of situation ethics lacks any kind of credibility.

The facts are that in 1992 Fianna Fáil in Government saw a very clear distinction between information and referral. Fianna Fáil in Government said it would legislate so that information could be provided under the same kind of conditions as provided for in this Bill. In 1995 they seem to have changed their minds because they have changed sides in the House. I am not making that point to be politically nasty but because the issue we are discussing needs clarity. The last thing it needs is that kind of political foot shuffling.

We forget sometimes just what we are talking about. For many years, Irish women have chosen to have abortions elsewhere. There was a time when some of them chose to have abortions here. That day is gone; apparently it is no longer possible. There are women alive today because of that who might not otherwise be alive. They have chosen to have abortions elsewhere. We have to accept the fact that in the future some Irish women will come to the same conclusion for reasons which I cannot go into, nor can other Members of this House. As long as that is the case, we have a duty to make sure that if they have to choose that road, they at least do it in circumstances which minimise the damage to them, both physical and psychological, and which minimise the anguish they will suffer. I do not know about that on a personal basis — few Members in this House do. We can only imagine that anguish from the stories we hear.

Maybe not all women who have an abortion suffer this kind of anguish, although SPUC and PLAC tell us that it scars every women permanently. If that is the case and if we know, as we do, that it will continue to happen, surely we should be trying to ease the blow on those women, rather than criminalising and vilifying them in the way that we now seem to do and in the way that opponents of this Bill want to do.

I might not agree with the choice that a woman can make — it is not up to me. I cannot take the responsibility or even imagine what it is like to be inside somebody else's conscience, but at least I can decide not to say to any woman who has had an abortion that she is part of something like Hitler's holocaust or that she is a Nazi. The people in SPUC and PLAC and other groups should not say that to them either, nor should they countenance anybody who supports them saying that. I ask where our charity has gone.

So far in this debate the judgmental aspects of the issue have been in the background. I hope they stay there until this Bill is concluded. I read a report of one priest saying that he would refuse holy communion to people who had been involved in encouraging this. I read that one bishop talked about excommunication and I have taken ecclesiastical legal advice on this. I would not claim this advice is the highest available because I do not have a direct line to God as other people claim to have but according to the best advice I can find, neither the priest nor the bishop is entitled under canon law to say either of those things. If people want to discuss that issue with me by telephone, outside the gate or anywhere else, they can forget it because I am not bothered to discuss such issues with them.

I am disappointed that the provisions of this Bill realistically constitute the best response we can make to the 1992 information referendum result. I emphasise that I am not in any way criticising the Minister. He made a very shrewd, hard-headed political judgment and I commend him for it but this Bill shows once again that the Irish, and their legislators in particular, are sadly lacking in the human charity which should be shown to people who find themselves in the situations contemplated by it.

I wish to share time with Deputy Martin.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I appreciate the opportunity afforded me by the main Opposition party to air my views. I will be brief because I realise many Members wish to contribute. During the last 20 years I have listened with amusement, amazement and some dismay to debates regarding abortion in Ireland. In the past week I have listened with similar amusement to some of the descriptive words used by people to describe this Bill. Words like "confusion", "service""crisis" and "hypocrisy" were used. They are probably relevant but more relevant to the opposing side of the story in many cases.

Last week the Minister, in response to a parliamentary question, gave the startling figure that 13,500 Irish people had procured abortions legally in Britain over the last three years. We were aware that some people were going to Britain for this purpose but nobody had the figures. We have them officially from the Minister now. Leaving aside the narrow argument relating to the life and health of the mother and the argument about the very small number of horrendous cases of pregnancies resulting from the crime of rape, in excess of 13,000 Irish lives have been terminated in Britain. That is crude, colourful and emotional but a fact.

We must ask what the Bill does to tackle this situation. I do not think it does anything to tackle it in a positive fashion, it is about whether Irish people should have access to abortion and the venue, Birmingham, London, Dublin or Cork, is totally irrelevant. This Bill expedites and facilitates abortion and is, therefore, the antithesis of the thinking of the Irish people. The referendum which was passed dealt with information but if it had asked the simple question whether the Irish people agreed that there should be abortion, essentially on demand, I believe the answer would have been a resounding no. This Bill is totally contradictory to the wishes of the nation.

I am not about to engage in the same type of bashing as the two Government speakers did in relation to the pro-life movement or any other movements, regardless of whether they agree with my viewpoint. They are entitled to their views and do not deserve to be knocked as an excuse for our actions here. I am not a member of any group and any one group does not have a monopoly on this situation. No one church — or party — has a remit over another. This issue is far too serious and must be put right by right thinking Christian people. It is time all the fudge and the amendments which have confused people are removed and we ask the Irish people if they feel it is right that we should have abortion essentially on demand.

Crisis pregnancies have been mentioned. Some 20 per cent of the children of this nation are born out of wedlock. It is probably fair to say that maybe half of them could have been considered at some stage to have been crisis pregnancies. Yet I believe if one were to ask the single parents, women in particular, who gave birth to and reared these children, how they felt about the crisis pregnancies and if they favoured abortion, I am sure one would offend them very deeply.

It is not the right of anybody, politicians or doctors, to take human life, which is a gift from God. I am not a member of the majority Church or a political party. I represent a constituency where women form 52 per cent of the electorate. Many women expressed difficulties and concerns to me over the past fortnight as they are very concerned about the implications of this Bill on their lives and the lives of the nation.

This day is a crossroads as far as the social agenda of the Irish nation is concerned. This Bill will lead to more Irish people being terminated in foreign hospitals than heretofore. In the name of God I oppose it and ask every Member not to engage in politics but to study their consciences and ask whether, when their time is gone, they will have left this country a better place in which to live. I do not think we will do so by passing this Bill and I urge people who have qualms of conscience about it to reject it and seek a solution in accordance with the Christian values of this island.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill. It is generally agreed that this is a particularly difficult issue for everyone concerned and has the capacity, as in the past, to divide people on a fundamental basis and polarise them. We should not unduly concentrate on our situations and make the type of comments Deputy Dukes made about legislators being sadly lacking in their response to this issue. It has divided people all over the world and has created far more emotion in different parts of the world. As we have seen on our television screens, it has been responsible in the United States for some of the most violent types of campaigning, leading to deaths. God forbid that we will ever get near that stage here.

It is not unusual that we are having such an intense debate on this Bill and the wider issue of abortion. There is nothing unique about this country. Certain people are overemphasising the uniqueness of our position and legislative capacity to deal with a fundamental issue.

Given that it is an issue that is prone to creating division and polarisation the manner in which this Bill was published and is being railroaded through the Dáil leaves much to be desired. It was published on the morning after the publication of the Framework Document. The decision was taken this morning to guillotine the debate. Last Thursday during the Second Stage debate there seemed to be an attempt by the Government to withdraw speakers in the vain hope that the debate would collapse thereby preventing the exposure of their Deputies to campaigning over the weekend. That does not represent a particularly mature way of dealing with legislation of this type.

The Minister and the Government have some questions to answer about their commitment to this House and its capacity to debate legislation of this type in a proper, organised and normal way. What is happening this week is by no means normal. We have not experienced the late hours we are due to sit this week for a long time. We are sitting late tonight, tomorrow night, Thursday night and Friday to rush through this legislation. There seems to be a particular desire to have it passed before another weekend.

We live in a democracy and people have the right to approach their Deputies on any issue. We have all had telephone calls and people contacting us about this issue. I have not experienced any undue intimidation from anybody. I received a number of telephone calls — not too many — and none have been too argumentative. People have been courteous and firm and put their positions but I have experienced very little overt intimidation.

Certain people in the media have, to a degree, exaggerated the influence and impact of such campaigning on Fianna Fáil Deputies and, indeed, on Deputies throughout the House. I was struck by certain articles on the efficacy of particular campaigns, the brilliance and ingenuity of the campaigning and so on.

Having witnessed the debate in my parliamentary party and having spoken to many of my colleagues, I make the fundamental point that many of the views articulated and many of the positions adopted by my colleagues are sincere. They do not amount to political opportunism and do not merit terminology such as "cute hoorism" which was used by Members of the Government side in relation to my parliamentary colleagues. These views are genuinely and sincerely held whether one likes them or not. It is wrong for Deputies on the other side of the House to question the sincerity of beliefs held by Members of my party on both sides of the debate.

Our parliamentary party has dealt with this issue in an open and honest way. When we were in Government the parliamentary party discussed this issue. A motion was passed demanding that, prior to the publication of any Bill, the Government would refer to the parliamentary party for approval the proposals and draft heads of such a Bill. At one stage, there was even a suggestion that the then Minister, Deputy Howlin, would meet members of the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party to discuss the contents of whatever Bill would eventually be introduced.

Debate adjourned.
Sitting suspended at 6.15 p.m. and resumed at 7 p.m.