Private Members' Business. - 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."

Prior to Christmas and the fall of the previous Government the Fianna Fáil Parliamentary Party gave a clear message to the then Government that it wanted to be consulted on any Bill dealing with information, particularly abortion information. At one stage it was suggested that the then Minister with responsibility for this area, Deputy Howlin, would address the Fianna Fáil Parliamentary Party if such a Bill were published and go through it Stage by Stage. Our Parliamentary party sought that consultation process by way of motion. I make that point to illustrate that the views of the Members of our parliamentary party are sincerely held. A number of attempts have been made to undermine the sincerity of the views held by many people. I acknowledged at the outset of the debate and in my contribution tonight that this is a difficult subject that has the capacity to polarise opinions and create extraordinary emotions and divisions.

In our press statement last week we called on the Minister to defer the Bill given the manner in which he introduced it, the fact that it was not included on the Order Paper, its timing and so on. Principally we asked the Minister to defer the Bill pending a decision by the courts on the issue at the core of this Bill and having regard to the concerns of many people as to whether this is a referral Bill or merely an information Bill. In the case before the High Court at present the plaintiff's claim is a declaration that the plaintiff, its servants or agents may make available within the State information relating to abortion services lawfully available in another member state of the European Union and may inform pregnant women of the identity and location of, and the method of communication with, a specified clinic or clinics or otherwise. Essentially the issue as to whether this Bill amounts to simply information or referral is being determined in the courts. We felt it was reasonable to ask the Minister to defer the Bill until this issue is determined. The decision of a Supreme Court judge in the Grogan case in 1988 was that the provision of information in effect would offer assistance to procure abortion services. Subsequent events and the constitutional amendment may have influenced that view, but that case is still before the Supreme Court. The core issue has still not been resolved and many Deputies, including myself, are concerned about it. We considered that it should have been resolved prior to the introduction of legislation which has been introduced with undue rapidity and rushed through the House. It is not normal practice for Committee Stage of a Bill to be taken the day after Second Stage. A week is normally allowed for proper consideration of a Bill before Committee Stage. I cannot understand why that is not being done in this case. We are led to believe that perhaps the Government did not want to delay the matter until next week. I do not agree with the manner in which this Bill was brought before the House and is being railroaded through it. During the past week there were undue attempts to undermine the Fianna Fáil Party's approach to the issue. It is unacceptable that a party Leader should tell the democratically elected members of a parliamentary party that he is not particularly worried — or does not care — what they think, that they will have to abide by his decision. That type of dictatorial approach is untenable.

You lived under it long enough.

The political correspondents who last week railed against the indecision of our party Leader and the Fianna Fáil Party were the same political correspondents who in the 1980s, with my colleague, Deputy O'Malley, railed against the alleged dictatorial attitude and behaviour of a party Leader at that time, with which I did not agree. The same people said then that there was a dictatorship. Last week the Leader of our parliamentary party said that he wanted to hear its members' views on the issue and he did not pretend that there were not different views within the party on it. Our party Leader acknowledged that there are different views on the subject, he is not prepared to hide that or prevent Members from contributing as happened last Thursday when Government backbenchers were told not to contribute to the debate because the Government wanted it to collapse and the Bill to be dealt with before the weekend. We entertained all shades of opinion at the Fianna Fáil Parliamentary Party meeting and allowed Members express their views here. It is natural that there are different strands of opinion and it mirrors the views held by members of the community. It would be a phoney democracy and consensus if the 166 Deputies pretended that the nation is at one on this issue and that there should be unanimity on it.

(Limerick East): That sounds like a prayer meeting.

We have shown democratically that our approach is transparent, unlike the Government's position.

The Deputy's time is exhausted.

(Limerick East): The Deputy is exhausted.

We note the Government's rowing back from a position of accountability, transparency and so on. I am constrained by time from raising other points I wish to cover. We will table amendments to the Bill. If the Minister is genuinely interested in dealing with this issue properly he should have consulted our party earlier and adopted a more hands-on approach. Instead, for whatever reason, he chose the occasion of publishing the Framework Document on Northern Ireland to publish this Bill. It was not necessary to publish the Bill that day, but the Minister wanted to rush it through the House to have the least political hassle possible in dealing with it. That is unworthy of the Minister and did not give due regard to the issue at the core of this Bill.

This Bill arises directly as a consequence of the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution Act, 1992. The Government is obliged to bring forward, and the Oireachtas is obliged to consider, legislative provisions controlling the dissemination of information relating to abortion services lawfully available in another State. To object to the principle of such a Bill is indefensible but to object or to criticise the detail of such a Bill is perfectly valid. The House has been remiss in its duty to bring forward laws to deal with the substantive issue as set out in an earlier part of Article 40.3.3º. That provision was passed by the people on 7 October, 1983 but, nearly 12 years later, no Government has brought forward legislation seeking to balance the equal rights mentioned therein. The late Mr. Justice McCarthy was critical of that in 1992.

The Government of which I was a member decided in 1992 against my advice not to introduce that legislation but to introduce a further proposed amendment to the Constitution. That was contained in the Twelfth Amendment of the Constitution Bill which, rightly in my view, the people turned down. This House should now be considering legislation arising out of the Eighth Amendment in priority to the relatively simple legislation arising from the Fourteenth Amendment. The Minister for Health described me as having approved this Bill in 1992. That is not correct. I approved of draft heads in a general scheme which did not include sections 6, 7, 8 and 13 of this Bill. I had no part in the preparation of the explanatory leaflet which was published by the Government on or about 12 November 1992. My party had resigned from that Government, for valid and well known reasons, on 4 November 1992. This Bill is a great deal more restrictive than what was agreed to by the then Government on 7 October 1992 but which was never published and, as far as I know, was not drafted at that time.

I share the concerns of my colleague, Deputy Liz O'Donnell, about several of the provisions of the Bill. A number of amendments should be made but they are secondary to the principle that this House should legislate for the delineation of constitutional rights. To deny the principle of legislation in these circumstances is not just undemocratic but anti-democratic because it seeks to thwart the constitutionally expressed wish of the people which is supreme. That constitutionally expressed wish is also contained in the Seventh Amendment of the Constitution passed by the people on 3 August, 1979 relating to elections to the Seanad.

No law has ever been introduced to implement that constitutional provision. That is entirely wrong. That is not a matter of great importance. It is a commentary on the Seanad that almost 16 years later the people are not terribly agitated about it. The fact that that duty has been ignored for 16 years does not lessen the duty on the Government to introduce legislation. By introducing legislation to implement the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution, it cannot abrogate its duty to introduce legislation which will delineate the constitutional amendment made in 1983 in the ill-fated Eighth Amendment. I was opposed to it at the time and voted against it. I felt it would inevitably bring a great deal of trouble in its wake. It has brought a long series of litigation and has spawned further constitutional amendments.

Article 40 of the Constitution has an unhappy and overcrowded appearance because it deals in detail with a whole lot of matters which are far too detailed to appear in any Constitution but which should appear in legislation. One of the several drawbacks in our Constitution is that it contains so many unnecessary provisions that give rise to huge difficulties whenever the most obvious changes need to be made.

The Bill, particularly the sections which are new since 1992 and which are a great deal more restrictive than what was proposed then, needs a thorough debate on Committee Stage. I hope the Minister will have an open mind on amendments which will be put forward from various parts of the House. The principle of introducing the Bill is right and as a matter of principle it should not be opposed. Members should support it on Second Stage even if they do not agree with all its provisions. Some Members may disagree with its provisions because they regard it as too liberal. I disagree with some of its provisions because I regard it as too restrictive. That is a matter of detail which ideally should be thrashed out on Committee Stage.

In general terms the Bill is drafted virtually entirely as a criminal law Bill. It prohibits all kinds of things. It creates criminal offences if one goes beyond a certain point. One is hemmed in by the criminal law. We are dealing here with people who are not criminals by any stretch of the imagination but people who are suffering a personal tragedy and trauma — for them at any rate, in their own mind — and with people who are seeking to give assistance to such people. The people who are suffering that trauma or tragedy are often very young, vulnerable and lonely. To treat them almost exclusively in the context of the criminal law is quite wrong.

When my colleague, Deputy O'Donnell, made her contribution last week she quoted two interesting observations on that very point. One was from Deputy Proinsias De Rossa, now Minister for Social Welfare, speaking here in 1992 when he said that the proper way to approach the information issue was through the information one could give to people for their assistance rather than the information which one might deprive them of under sanction of the criminal law. That is a perfectly valid statement of social and legal policy. It is disappointing that it is not followed in this Bill and that we are back to the old concept of criminality in our legislation on a very delicate social and personal issue such as this.

The other person Deputy O'Donnell quoted was the late Mr. Justice McCarthy, who gave, if I may say so, by far the best judgment on a number of these cases, particularly on the X case, though in each instance he was in the minority. He said that the State's way of framing laws and delineating these rights in detail did not consist just in terms of drafting criminal statues but also consisted of positive help to people who need it in encouraging, counselling, assisting and making things easier for them rather than harder. How many of the 4,000 or, perhaps, 5,000 women per year who travel from Ireland to England for abortions might be dissuaded from following that course if there was a caring society here rather than the kind of society we have?

If one wants an example of what I suppose many young frightened women would regard as the response of the State to their predictment one has only to look at the response Miss X got to her predicament. She was treated by the State in the 1990s in a way which to her was not unlike the way in which the so-called witches of Salem were treated in their day or the way Joan of Arc was treated in hers. It is an appalling reflection on our society that that was the answer of the State to the predicament of that 14 year-old girl who was the victim of a criminal assault which led to her pregnancy. Instead of being helped she was persecuted by the State. We know what has happened to some of the dramatist personae since then but I will not dwell on that aspect. It is appalling to think that that happened, and it must colour the views of young women who find themselves in a very difficult situation.

The Minister has an opportunity to try to adopt a different approach to this issue. Instead of delineating rights purely in terms of criminal sanctions whether against doctors, patients, social workers or health workers of one kind or another, he has an opportunity to create, through the health boards, hospitals and general medical services, a system which will encourage young, frightened and lonely women to confide in people who can help them and who, perhaps, can avoid the ultimate tragedy of an abortion which would otherwise happen. We will not be able to achieve much in that direction during a one day Committee Stage debate but at least this is legislation and not a constitutional amendment.

If in one, two or three years it appears there are better ways of dealing with this issue then, perhaps, the Minister can introduce the necessary measures. I strongly believe there are better ways of dealing with the issue instead of simply thinking in these terms only. It is sad that an issue such as this should cause the type of friction and factionalism we experienced before. The only good thing I can say about this is that it seems to be a great deal less intense than it was previously. This is probably due to the fact that people have become somewhat more mature in their judgment and are now less likely to jump when certain people crack the whip or make particular statements.

While I disagree with aspects of the Bill, I fully agree with the principle of it and will vote in favour of it. I urge other Members to do the same and exhort the Minister for Health to consider the points made by me and Deputy O'Donnell and those which my party leader, Deputy Harney, will make tomorrow.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate and hope my views will be respected for what they are, a positive contribution on what is for many people a difficult issue. I respect the right of people to make known their views and I hope I will be afforded the same right by those who would seek to put me in a corner or stick a label on me.

The Bill is required under the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution. It is important to remind people of the precise wording of the relevant Article in the Constitution which is as follows:

The provisions of Article 40.3.3º shall not limit freedom to obtain or to make available in the State, subject to such conditions as may be laid down by law, information relating to services lawfully available in other States.

Clearly this Bill deals with the provision of information. Under the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution we, as legislators, are obligated to introduce legislation which will regulate the provision of information on services outside the State for the termination of pregnancies.

I very much regret the polarisation of views on this issue and our inability to deal logically with the legislation. Like I am sure other Deputies, I have received numerous telephone calls and letters about this issue. While I respect people's right to express their views, I wish they would deal with the legislation before the House instead of the substantive issue of abortion which is not dealt with under it. The electorate has already given its view on the provision of information and we are obliged to introduce this legislation.

It is important to say that like the overwhelming majority of people I am opposed to abortion. I have no choice but to put that on the record lest somebody takes another interpretation from what I will say. However, I do not believe that the provision of information on a service legally available in another country will in any way promote, support or encourage its use. Many services legally available in other countries are not available in this country and as a mature society we should not be afraid to provide information on them. This is not to say that one supports, condones or urges people to use those services.

We live in a world which has seen an enormous explosion in the provision of information through the use of modern technology. At a time when people are demanding a freedom of information Bill in its broadest terms, it is contradictory of some people to seek to limit information on a service which is legally available in another country. One cannot adopt an á la carte approach to the provision of information. By its nature information is non-judgmental and its utilisation is subjective. What is regarded by some as relevant and important is regarded by others as a threat to society. The fact that some information is regarded as a threat to society makes it all the more necessary for us to deal with the issue in a professional and mature way. Surely such information should be dealt openly and honestly rater than filtered through by back door methods or by oblique, subtle and sometimes misleading advertising. Those who take an extreme view against the provision of abortion information should consider the case of a young pregnant woman who in a panic considers no options except abortion and seeks out information on the location of an abortion clinic in the UK. Having done that, she is more likely to go ahead and have an abortion because she will believe the only way to solve her terrible problem is to terminate the pregnancy. In contrast, a young woman in similar circumstances who knows she can go to her GP or a family planning organisation for professional advice and have the horrors of the physical and mental consequences of an abortion and the alternatives — on which emphasis should be placed — explained to her is more likely to opt not to have an abortion. There are many positive elements, to this legislation.

Surely it is the aim of our society to eliminate the need for women to have abortions in the first place and this can be done only by providing proper information and making it available in a fully inclusive service. This would not promote abortion but rather curb and reduce substantially the need for women to have abortions. It is nonsense to suggest we can sweep this information underneath the carpet in the hope that it will be contained in some twilight zone. Such reaction is that of an immature society lacking confidence in its sense of self worth.

The extremists who have hijacked this debate should be ashamed. They lack maturity, understanding, compassion, generosity and above all they seek to defy democracy. They are wrong to distort this debate. In the aftermath of the X case the people reacted with genuine compassion and generosity and firmly believed the State should not be in a position to exercise such control over one of its citizens. The general feeling was that we live in a compassionate society and should seek to be honest, helpful and caring in our approach to such matters. That led to the constitutional referendum in which the people clearly stated how we should approach abortion. Fundamentalism in whatever form, or from wherever it comes, must be defeated in the best interests of all who aspire to a modern Ireland.

We should accept that no matter how well thought out or sensitive, no legislation can hope to satisfy everybody. However, this Bill fairly reflects the thrust of the constitutional amendment made by the people in 1992. It seeks to put a regulative framework around a very sensitive and difficult issue. If people concentrate on the contents of this Bill and what it is trying to do, the extreme views on either side can be curbed and we can get down to dealing with the real issues. I hope the Minister notes the views of Members from all sides. There is room for improvement, and detailed attention should be given to this on Committee Stage. The Minister should not seek to shorten the debate on Committee Stage.

I fail to understand why the Minister believed it necessary to introduce this legislation now. He could and should have waited until later in the year when the outstanding judgments before the courts will be made known and when no excuse to seek refuge in awaiting such judgments could be made. I understand these judgments may not clarify the position and that the Legislature will have to face up to its responsibility to introduce legislation. This House is the Legislature, not the courts. I reject suggestions that the primacy of legislative direction rests with the Judiciary. It does not, and the day we allow the courts to gain primacy over this Legislature we will be heading in the wrong direction. We should not shirk our responsibilities, rather we should be honest and honourable in what we do. However, the fact that court procedings are awaiting judgments adds to the uncertainty in this case and allows doors to be prized open by people both inside and outside this House. This would not be the case if the Minister had waited for the court decisions before introducing the legislation.

The Minister's rush to introduce this legislation has me and others offside. The legislation is sensitive and should not divide the House. We must strive for consensus on issues such as this. The Minister should listen to the views of all Members and if necessary delay the passing of the Bill to achieve the necessary consensus. He isolated potential supporters by its sudden introduction without the ground work being prepared and with court decisions pending. The Minister, Deputy Noonan, has an experienced track record in Government. He is a shrewd operator and understands the difficulties that can arise. Having regard to that, it is baffling that he took this approach.

I attended my party's four and a half hour parliamentary party meeting on this issue and at no stage was a concerted political approach taken to the Bill. The views expressed were deeply held and many and wide ranging concerns were expressed about the legislation. To suggest that this is Fianna Fáil up to its old tricks in Opposition is wrong. That is not the case and it is most unhelpful to the passage of this Bill and to those of us seeking to bring about a consensus on this issue to suggest that such is the basis of Fianna Fáil's opposition.

The leadership of Fianna Fáil supports the decision in the 1992 constitutional referendum and the need to legislate on the basis of that positive decision taken by the Irish people, but we want to do more. We want to ensure that the thrust of this legislation can make a significant contribution to reducing substantially the numbers of young women who, for whatever reason, believe their pregnancies must end in abortion. This can only be done by laying the greatest emphasis possible on counselling and family planning services. We need to substantially improve resourcing both in terms of people and financial support in this area. The Bill does not go far enough in that regard and we will seek to improve that aspect of it. Nobody in Fianna Fáil supports abortion or the referral by a doctor or organisation of women to a clinic outside this country to have an abortion.

I am convinced that a proper inclusive and professionally managed counselling policy on all the issues can positively reduce the number of women seeking abortions. I can only speak in the abstract. Only a woman who has gone through it can really understand. When women realise the trauma and the terrible physical pain and mental anguish involved in such a course of action, and when they fully understand all the alternatives available, coupled with tangible support, then the numbers seeking abortion can be significantly reduced. Surely that is the real objective of every Member and of the people.

Those who are misquoting and misrepresenting this legislation are doing a disservice as much to themselves as to anybody else by not encouraging those who want a fully inclusive mature service of the highest professional standards maintained here. When all the detail is faced up to, the net effect will be that the number of people seeking an abortion abroad will be substantially reduced.

There was a time when we thought that to have sex education in our schools would promote promiscuity, and look how far we have travelled on that issue, to the betterment of everyone concerned. We are dealing with another such issue which must be dealt with in an honest and compassionate way. We cannot shirk our responsibility no matter how painful and difficult it may be. We should not fear information because if we do we lose a little of our dignity. Developing self worth and confidence in our society is not easy. Extreme views seek to threaten, not bring about a consensus, and we have had enough experience of this on the island of Ireland in the past two decades.

This House has the mechanisms and should have the capacity to build consensus on this issue. This is the challenge that the Minister faces in steering this Bill successfully through the House, and I hope he will consider some of the comments I made. A valid point that should be made is that we should not shirk our responsibility to deal with the difficult issues irrespective of from where the pressure comes. We could gain much merit if the Minister and the Government stood back and listened to those who seek to support him, and help those women who find themselves in the difficult and tragic circumstances of having to take the boat or the plane across the water. We should be doing much more if we are the caring society we like to tell ourselves we are.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill. Like other Members I find it difficult to speak about the trauma many people are faced with. I compliment the Minister on his courage in bringing this legislation before the House. He could easily have backed down and left it aside. However, since I came into this House in 1987 I have come to recognise Deputy Noonan as a man of integrity, a decent man and a good family man.

To the people who say that this Bill is being rushed and that more time should be given to debate it, I say we have waited too long. We have ignored this problem and have often pretended it did not exist. It has been swept under the carpet and many can tell tragic tales of young girls in difficult situations leaving this country to seek a service which is wrong and which I condemn out of hand. Abortion is wrong but it is sheer hypocrisy to say that banning information will deal with the problem. That is side-tracking the issue. This country is awash with information about where abortions are available outside the State. What we need are back-up services for the young women who find themselves in this difficult situation.

Perhaps we should ask why this is happening to such an extent. It is not new. There have been many sad cases. One sticks is my mind, that of a back street abortionist more than 40 years ago. Why is this happening to such an extent at this time? Is it a breakdown of society? Is it that our young people cannot comprehend that life is not as it is portrayed in films and glossy magazines? Is it lack of education? Is it lack of parental guidance? I cannot say. Nobody can point the finger because this unfortunate situation can affect any family.

What is needed is support and I congratulate the Minister on providing £200,000 for organisations to help and advise women. It will not be enough, and it is not good enough that services to advise women will only be available in our larger cities. This is a nation-wide problem, it is as prevalent in rural Ireland as it is in our larger cities. There are many good organisations trying to deal with it. I know of the work of CURA, a Catholic Church agency, and of the work of Life Ireland, an interdenominational organisation. However, these organisations are under-staffed and under-funded. If women can be directed towards good counselling we can help encourage them not to leave this country for abortions. However, if, having received good medical and social advice, a woman decides that she cannot continue with the pregnancy, I will not condemn her, nor could I. Who am I to judge? That unfortunate person will be in greater need of help and counselling when she returns. If we can provide that counselling then Deputy Noonan's courage in bringing this problem into the open will have done much good for the women of Ireland.

Information is available in magazines, at third level education centres and in English newspapers circulating here. It is not good enough that information is channelled in this way. If a woman has a problem she should be able to turn to someone. That is not the case at present. It is not uncommon for a young woman to attend a clinic and say she does not want her parents and family to know she is pregnant and to ask what she should do. The best any public representative can do is advise her to go to her local social welfare office or health centre. They however, do not have the expertise or the time to deal with the problem.

There should be a free telephone help line, as many young women are unable to confide in their families and friends and may run away from the problem, which is quite natural. If young women living in Cavan could travel to Galway or young women living in Galway could travel to Limerick, Cork or Dublin where they know they would be safe and receive good advice, I have no doubt the number who decide to leave this country to have abortions could be greatly reduced. I do not accept that the figure stands at between 2,000 and 3,000 but certainly hundreds of young women leave these shores. If we can prevent one person only from leaving we will have done something good. With good advice and counselling we can prevent many from leaving.

People are prepared to give such advice to young women whose minds are in turmoil and who do not know where to turn — I am not referring to institutions of which we had enough in the past. While they tried to help and felt they were doing good work some of the treatment meted out to unfortunate young women could not be described as Christian. I am aware of a couple in the west who are extremely well off — the husband has a good accountancy practice and the wife a legal practice — and who are so thankful that they have been able to rear their children without any great difficulty that they are prepared to open their door to a complete stranger. That is Christian charity and there are many others who are prepared to do likewise provided they receive support and back-up services so that they can provide proper information and guide the young women on the courses of action open to them other than abortion. With the help of such people we can deal with this problem.

It would be wrong to point the finger at any one strand of society as this problem transcends all strands. There is a need for education and awareness programmes targeted at young people who are living in good times and have great opportunities which they should not throw away by engaging in casual sexual activities which should not happen outside marriage. Perhaps I am old fashioned but that is my view. The consequences of this is often that the life of a lonely young woman whose mind is in turmoil has been destroyed because her so-called boyfriend has left her in the lurch. For many, the lonely trip across the sea by boat to a strange city must be traumatic. They return home eventually and hide from their friends and neighbours. That is not Christian charity and no one can condone it; we must do our utmost to prevent it and we can prevent it by helping these young women. This help will not come from those who lift a telephone and abuse me telling me that I am breaking the commandments and am a murderer. I resent such a campaign. God help any young woman who feels it necessary to call upon any one of them.

I thank the many people who telephoned and wrote to me at home to express their points of view. I accept and appreciate their points of view and have made my view clear. When this legislation is enacted there should be an adequately financed nation-wide service so that young women can be cared for. If this is done we will have done a good day's work and for once faced up to an issue which has been ignored for far too long and done ourselves credit as legislators. I am not worried about those who say we are opening the door to abortion. I resent this: they should be the last to pass judgment on anyone.

Cuireann sé íonadh agus díomá orm go bhfuil an díospóireacht seo ag brath go hiomlán beagnach ar Theachtaí de chuid an Fhreasúra chun an t-ábhar a phlé.

Is mór an trua nach bhfuil Teachtaí eile páirteach sa díospóireacht. Is deacair a chreidiúint nach bhfuil gnáth Theachtaí as Fine Gael, Lucht Oibre agus Daonlathas Clé ag cur dóthain suime san ábhar seo agus sa Bhille seo chun teacht isteach agus labhairt faoi. Feicim go bhfuil roinnt díobh tagaithe isteach inniu agus is maith an rud é sin.

(Carlow-Kilkenny): Táimíd ag éisteacht.

Ní léir an é go bhfuil náire orthu faoin Bhille féin nó an bhfuil ordú tugtha dóibh gan labhairt faoi. B'fhéidir nach bhfuil i gceist ach go bhfuil siad beagán measctha ina n-intinn faoin cheist ar fad agus nach maith leo dream ar bith a tharraingt anuas orthu féin. Bheadh sé sin do-thuigthe tar éis an méid atá cloiste againn ó dhaoine áirithe. Tá grúpaí amuigh ansin ag éisteacht go géar agus a n-intinn déanta suas cheana féin acu. Seachas é sin tá gnáthdhaoine ag éisteacht freisin — daoine ar mhaith leo a gcuid Teachtaí a chloisteáil. Is mór an trua nach bhfuil an deis sin acu faoi mar is cóir go mbeadh. Is trua liom freisin go bhfuil an tAire féin imithe mar ba mhaith liom go mbeadh deis aige an méid atá le rá agam a chloisteáil. Is trua nach raibh deis ag an Teachta Caitlín Ní Loinsigh labhairt romham mar tá buntáiste mór amháin aici orm agus ag cuid mhaith de na mná anseo gur máithreacha iad. Sin mí-bhuntáiste atá ag na fir anseo.

So far this has been a balanced, reasonably fair and unemotive debate, conducted, unfortunately, in the main among members of the Opposition. This is a great pity as I have no doubt members of the Government parties have much to contribute. While I hold strong views which could be described as old fashioned I am surprised at the extent to which I find myself in agreement with most of what has been said, including what has been said by those who hold widely divergent views. These are reflected in the contributions of members of all parties.

The Minister may have erred on two fronts. First, in his own contribution he allowed his deep antipathy towards the Fianna Fáil Party to colour his approach in a most unhelpful manner. Second, it was a fundamental error to introduce this legislation virtually under cover of the Framework Document because the effect was to demean both. I do not believe that was the Minister's intention, nevertheless, it has tended to colour the whole proceedings in an unhelpful manner.

While I hold strong views on this issue, I respect those who hold the opposite view and who come into this Chamber, or any forum, and enunciate those views clearly and logically. The more I listen to these proceedings, the more I come to the view that those — on both sides — who choose to sit on the fence contribute the least and do the most damage to the debate.

The timing of the Bill is inexplicable in view of the outstanding issues before the courts. The 1983 amendment was adjudicated upon by the Supreme Court in the X case. Many people expressed the view that the decision of the Supreme Court went against what they voted for at the time of the referendum and that colours my view in relation to legislation and amendments. It is very useful to have the court's view and, in this instance, it would have been particularly advantageous to have the outcome of the cases still pending.

In this regard I strongly disagree with Deputy Dukes who appears to have drawn the opposite conclusions in relation to the eighth amendment and the constitutional findings on it by the Supreme Court. I agree with him that people who do not know anything about constitutional matters — and I confess to being one of them — do not make any contribution when they seek to have an input to preparing wordings for such amendments. However, I disagree strongly with him in his other apparent conclusion that legislation should proceed in this case without the benefit of relevant court judgments because history teaches us the opposite. Having listened to Deputy Dukes's contribution today and on numerous other occasions. I am constantly amazed that a position in Government could not have been found for him.

I also disagree with Deputy Dukes that this issue can and should be "put to bed". In the United States and Britain the whole abortion debate continues to rage despite virtually all legal constraints having been removed on both jurisdictions. I was in the United States over Christmas and the early part of the year and I was astounded at the level of debate that surrounded the whole abortion issue. It related to particular attacks at abortion clinics but it was a most heated debate and reflected as close to what we have seen here as one would possibly expect.

This whole area evokes strong emotions and reactions and will never be far removed from the political agenda. Therefore, it is best to face the issue honestly and honourably and to seek a logical baseline for this country. The Minister's approach is most disturbing as his personal confidence in his own Bill is clearly at issue. It is obvious that he was relieved to be able to give vent to his anti-Fianna Fáil feelings in his opening address. It is to his great discredit that his contribution is the only one so far which is blatantly divisive along party political lines in a debate on a matter which merits careful and measured contributions. The two speakers immediately following the Minister, Deputy Geoghegan-Quinn and Deputy O'Donnell, were the direct opposite in that they sought to give genuinely and strongly held views — although I disagree strongly with one of them — and did not introduce this singularly unhelpful element of divisiveness.

Members contributing to this debate should consider their positions carefully and speak from a genuine commitment that is clearly thought out but that also leaves room for listening to the views of other people. In that way I hope a consensus will be reached which will reflect the needs of the people at this time and uphold the traditions which are held by people both inside and outside this Chamber.

In this regard I empathise with Deputy Harte who I understand is in a position, not dissimilar to my own two years ago, in relation to his party. I suppose some people would find some poetic justice in the turnaround of events. On the Shannon issue, Deputy Noonan was praised for having worded a motion which allowed all in his own party — even those who would happily close the gates at Shannon Airport and throw away the key — to close ranks, support the motion and force some of us into a difficult position which we had to deal with at the time. Deputy Noonan was always a promising Minister in Opposition. He is a Minister now but apparently he is unable to devise a Bill which is acceptable to all in his own party. Having gone through the same difficult time which Deputy Harte, and perhaps some others, appear to be going through now, I empathise with him and wish him well in whatever he decides to do. I am tempted to conclude that perhaps the Taoiseach has a sense of humour after all in appointing Deputy Noonan to his position. If he was not owed favours, he might not have got it.

My difficulty with the Bill is that I am unable to separate the issue which the Minister is trying to address from the basic issue of abortion. I believe in the fundamental right to life. The most common statement that has been made is that we are all anti-abortion and pro-life but we all mean different things when we say that even though we make that statement with great honesty and integrity. I cannot and do not differentiate between the quality of life of a baby five months after birth and its quality of life five months before birth. If anybody can tell me that there is a difference, let them do so.

The bottom line is whether the occupant of a womb is a person, in other words, a human life. If not, is an abortion logically indistinguishable from the procedure involved in removing a wart, tonsils, etc.? My view — and this is shared by many people who oppose abortion — is that it is a human life and that colours my approach to all the issues which arise from that. I realise it is an unfashionable view and one that leaves me open to attack from all sides. In political terms it seems that the anti-abortion position is the most difficult to sustain in the present climate but it must be done by people who perhaps have no other choice in this regard.

Of course, there are cases when the taking of a life may be justified. We would all defend our right to do whatever was required in self-defence. There is a lively ongoing debate on capital punishment and, while I am opposed to it, I have heard strongly expressed views in its favour. Also, it is frequently argued that a women who has been raped should have the right to an abortion and the X case, involving a 14 year old girl, went along those lines. If I genuinely believed that having an abortion would help a woman in the long term, I would find it hard as a parent to deny her that right and I would be very much inclined to go along with whatever would make her life, and that of her family, easier and I believe that would be the view of everybody in the Chamber. I would much more comfortably question the right to life of the rapist or the person who committed the crime. Perhaps it is a fundamental flaw in society that we tend to ignore the difficulties that beset the victims of crime.

It appears we are saying that children of rapists are in some way less worthy of life than others. While that is understandable in terms of the personal difficulties of the girl involved, if logically followed it may lead to a very awkward and difficult situation. If on the other hand — this is the nub of the problem — we decide there are circumstances in which abortion ought to be made available, surely the means we are adopting not just in this Bill but in the way we approach the entire matter as a people and a Legislature is grossly demeaning. That is particularly reflected in this Bill. What we seem to be saying to the woman is that we consider the choice of abortion wrong but if she slips away to Britain or elsewhere to have her pregnancy terminated we will turn a blind eye and perhaps even provide a few signposts along the way.

The subliminal message from the people is a negative one which has the effect of heaping guilt on an already crisis torn and vulnerable person. That is not helped by the current approach. Fundamental errors were made particularly in the 1992 referendum because the question was not put as clearly as it ought to have been, and that is no wonder in view of the misunderstandings, contradictions and diverging views expressed in the debate of the last few days. Ultimately we must decide whether we support abortion. If we do, we must provide a service in whatever circumstances we consider appropriate. If we oppose abortion we should take a proactive approach in terms of counselling and support systems for women with crisis pregnancies. I strongly support and advocate a more honest and effective approach to counselling. I very much regret that because I hold such views and try to express them as clearly and honestly as I can, I leave myself open to personal attack. I do not mind being old-fashioned because my children have made me feel so old-fashioned that I think nothing that is said in the media, here or elsewhere would make a difference. I believe that the fundamental right to hold that view is under threat.

I commend the Minister for providing extra resources for counselling, but the ultimate effect of this Bill if passed in its present form will be to increase the number of abortions performed on Irish women. How can the position be otherwise when the clear signal is towards acceptance of termination as a valid form of contraception? That is not helpful. A different approach is required. I have grave reservations about section 2.

A number of Deputies have indicated that they have been inundated with phone calls, letters and so on about this matter. I am somewhat disappointed I received only two such phone calls, one of which was pro-choice and had the effect of convincing me of the opposite view; the other was pro-life and had the effect of weakening my convictions in that regard. I have not found the lobbying from either side very convincing. Personal attacks on Deputies and Ministers and their families should be condemned. They should not influence legislators.

This is a difficult subject. I accept a substantial number of Irish women travel aborad to terminate pregnancies. I would like to influence a reduction in that number. I genuinely wish to see the State taking a proactive approach in supporting, counselling and helping women before they make the decision, and after the abortion if that is what they decide. We have not done that in the proper manner but it is not too late to change that approach.

I am concerned about the effects of the Bill, particularly sections 2 and 5 about which I have grave reservations and which, I hope, will be amended. On occasion the Minister has indicated to the media that he is more open to amendments than he indicated in the House. I welcome that. Ultimately there is a responsibility on this House and the Oireachtas generally to address the difficult problems arising from the multiple amendments of the Constitution and the decisions on them by the courts. A difficulty arises in that there is not a clearly laid out path for the Oireachtas to follow. It is likely that whatever legislation is ultimately passed will be open to challenge in the courts and may be overturned despite the best attempts to get it right, balanced and as fair as possible. Despite the fact that there are widely diverging views on this subject, consensus may emerge and we may take a more honest approach to a matter that creates grave difficulty for individuals and reflects very poorly on us as a State.

I assure the last speaker his ideas are exceptionally old-fashioned, but being old-fashioned does not necessarily mean one is wrong. For time immemorial women have held the view that they are the best judges of how to protect the children they carry and deliver. I find it grossly insulting as a woman to be told I am not to be trusted to make the right decision for myself and my family. I find it equally insulting that someone would equate abortion with the removal of a wart. A woman would never make such an equation. It is frightening to hear people speak in such a cool and dispassionate manner. This is not a debate that can be dealt with in that way. It is a debate which will stir the emotions of most people involved.

I am not a person who believes that only women have a view on this subject. There are as many compassionate men in the world as there are compassionate women, and that has been proved here tonight.

Deputies have made speeches with which I could not disagree, but I cannot agree with their conclusions that they will have to vote against the Bill because of its presentation, the guillotine and so on. This has nothing to do with the Bill and how we intend to deal with it. The previous speaker objected to it strongly on moral grounds, and he is entitled to do that. In the main, the telephone calls I have received on this issue were polite but one was abusive which is to be expected when an issue evokes particular emotions. I believe in the right to free speech and the day I stop believing in that I will contribute no longer to public life. Equally, I believe the person best suited to make a decision about how she lives her life should have the wherewithal to make that decision.

It is very easy to talk about the 4,500-6,000 women who cross the Irish Sea to terminate crisis pregnancies but each and every one is an individual, not all young women, whose circumstances are individual to her. We need to put to bed the idea that a woman always makes the decision on her own. Many of these decisions are reached with a husband or partner for health reasons although others may be reached because of rape or incest. It is difficult to arrive at this decision and it is the last possible option. Yet, we insist that on her return she may never again speak about the trauma she has gone through to her friends or family if they do not know about it already.

We are only beginning to recognise what childbirth means to women. We have not yet grown up sufficiently to recognise that the number of Irish women having abortions has not altered over the years in spite of the fact that births outside marriage have become socially acceptable and young girls can keep their babies with the support of the State. Births outside marriage are no longer a stigma but the number of Irish women having abortions in England has not decreased. Has it ever occurred to people that these women simply cannot complete a pregnancy for whatever reason and that no matter what we do this service will be necessary?

When the three amendments were put to the people in a referendum, they voted very clearly and gave a decisive "yes" answer to two and "no" to the other. I was amazed it was so clear-cut and that tells me that the Irish people knew exactly what they were doing. When it comes to compassion, sometimes the people put us to shame. They react instinctively as a compassionate people, a trait we have shown in other areas. I do not know of anyone who will say he or she believes in abortion. It is a last possible resort and we all know that. When the people were presented with the plight of the 14 year old rape victim they thought of her in terms of their own daughters. That is how we should look at this issue. We should look at the plight of the individual and deal with her as if she were our own.

We do not have the ideal solution but if we do not deal with the issue now the circumstances will arise again and again and eventually we will have to deal with it. People are entitled to hold different opinions but this matter requires compassion, trust and a belief that people are entitled to make a decision having all the available information. Surveys have shown that a percentage of Irish women change their minds when counselled by English doctors. I am convinced the same will happen as soon as we start to provide the counselling service which the English have provided for us. I welcome the funding for support agencies who have been doing for years a job that the State should have done, but again we refused to face up to that. We must now face up to the situation.

We do not want to be in the position we are in now. We would prefer all to be right with the world and not to need this measure, but that is not the case. We need it for very definite reasons. In the past week we have heard statements designed to confuse people. A very eminent High Court judge reminded us on the 50th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz of those who remained silent during the Holocaust.

I find it deeply offensive that anyone, particularly a respected judge, should choose to compare women in crisis pregnancies with those who perpetrated the wholesale slaughter of six million people. Mr. Justice O'Hanlon is entitled to his opinion on this legislation but he is not entitled to refer to women in this fashion. In a lengthy statement the Archbishop of Dublin criticised the Bill in terms specifically designed to mislead the public further. Fortunately the laws of the land are made by the Legislature, not by judges or by any church.

Debate adjourned.