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."

(Limerick West): Before the debate was adjourned I was referring to the right to life of the unborn which is protected by the Constitution. This should not allow assistance to be given in aborting the unborn child. The people have been consulted and they have been unequivocal in their attitude. They have consistently said no, that they do not want abortion to be made legal through this back door method.

The medical profession is in a dilemma. When treating a pregnant woman a medical doctor has a duty to care for his two patients. In enacting legislation under which a doctor may assist in ending the life of one of his patients we are corrupting the noble practice of medicine. Abortion is not necessary in treating any condition during pregnancy. By allowing doctors to assist patients in procuring an abortion we are providing a cloak of respectability and fostering an abortion culture. If this legislation is passed women will have easier access to abortion clinics. There will also be an increase in the number of pregnancies terminated. For that reason, even at this late stage, I call on the Minister to withdraw this obnoxious legislation.

Last Wednesday the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party discussed this issue for four and a half hours. Differing views were expressed. This fact has not been acknowledged by the media and the party has been attacked not only by journalists but also by cartoonists, as can be seen in one of the newspapers today.

It is important to record that Fianna Fáil was not committed either to this Bill or, indeed, a more liberal version. Many Deputies, and Ministers of State, particularly Deputy O'Dea who was Minister of State at the Department of Health up to 15 December, have so stated. Fianna Fáil is now being accused of blatant hypocrisy but what is more hypocritical is that while in the Constitution we say the unborn child is protected we are providing names, addresses and telephone numbers of abortion clinics under this legislation. That is not non-directive counselling.

In addition to the trauma experienced by a woman with an unplanned pregnancy the position of doctors is difficult under this legislation in that they do not have an opt-out clause. Doctors I met in recent days expressed concern about the doctor-patient relationship in the future. In fact, the very ethos of that relationship is changed by the Bill. When a doctor is caring for a pregnant woman he has two patients, the mother and the unborn baby, and he has a duty to care for both. Many doctors are concerned they could be sued under this Bill in the event of serious post-abortion side effects or the death of a pregnant woman. The Bill should be withdrawn until the High Court rules on the application by the Dublin Well Woman Centre to have an injunction lifted. The Government did not rush any legislation on the divorce referendum because it was awaiting the decision on the Judicial Separation Act, 1989. The Government should defer this Bill also.

In 1992 the people voted for information and for the best counselling available. I am concerned that if this legislation is passed, which I believe it will, we will be accused of being hypocrites because we are not providing the names and addresses of clinics here while giving the names and addresses of abortion clinics outside the State. The Fianna Fáil Party is totally opposed to the provision of legal abortion here.

I welcome the Minister's statement in regard to funding for CURA, Life, Cherish and other support agencies. I also welcome his comprehensive family planning proposals in which the health boards have a role to play.

Many of our second level schools have introduced sex education in an integrated way through religious instruction and biology classes. The provision of more resources for education and counselling should be a priority in this Bill because more than 4,000 Irish women obtain abortions outside the country.

In the 1983 referendum there was a 4:1 majority in favour of the proposal not to permit abortions here. I do not believe the wishes of those people are being respected. In order to respect their wishes there should be another referendum, which is what every local authority in the country has sought. Members of this House, and of the Seanad, who are members of local authorities have voted in favour of holding a referendum.

The Minister could have achieved consensus on this issue if he had deferred the Bill. Fianna Fáil is not aware of any reason for rushing through this legislation. What we are having is a restricted debate in which Deputies are being allowed just a few minutes to express their views. I realise this is an issue that can divide people but that is not unique to Ireland or to any other country. Although there are members in my party who hold different views from mine, I welcome the opportunity to make my contribution to the debate.

I do not intend going into some of the weightier aspects of the rights and wrongs of the legislation because they have been dealt with extensively. I agree with the expressions of regret by Deputy Kitt that, as we reach the conclusion of Second Stage, the debate is being curtailed and Members are only being allowed four or five minutes to make their contributions.

I wish to refer to what I believe is the unfair treatment of my party in the media since it began debating this subject last Wednesday. That was the first time the detail of the Bill was made available to the parliamentary party. Nobody is denying that the previous Government had a Bill in preparation and that my colleagues in Cabinet intended bringing it forward.

The Fianna Fáil parliamentary party considered it incredible that the media could be of the opinion that not all of the 40 per cent who opposed the referendum on the provision of information held those views sincerely.

A number of my colleagues dealt with the substantive issue. The debate that has ensued since the Minister circulated the Bill merely goes around the substantive issue rather than dealing with what the people voted on in the referenda in 1992. Some Bill should lead to us having a much better and caring society than we have.

This debate is not about a black and white issue. I welcome the Bishops' statement this evening because it is conciliatory in its objective. They have a moral right to speak to their flock and they rightly say that we, as legislators, have a difficult task in dealing with this matter. There are very distinct differences of opinion on this issue, one of the most contentious in the world. Countries that permit abortions are now trying to roll back on that and some serious problems have developed as a result.

Fianna Fáil point out that a substantial number of people opposed the provision of information referendum in 1992. I presume the majority of those reporting on this debate were part of the 60 per cent who favoured the provision of information. However, the lectures of some of my colleagues who expressed an alternative view were unbalanced and inaccurate.

In the House, and around the country, people hold different views on how this matter should be addressed. We are being criticised for opposing in principle the concept of the Bill. My party will table amendments which we hope the Minister will accept. They are intended to improve the Bill and show some compassion.

I am in favour of the provision of the best advice, medically and otherwise, to pregnant women. Women go to their medical counsellor to seek his or her guidance, advice and support in a time of crisis. We must provide every facility and service to those women to ensure they have a better choice and I have no doubt the Bill will be greatly improved by our amendments.

There has been much hypocrisy in the lobbying that has taken place on this issue and a complete ignoring of the need for services, facilities and back-up support for young unmarried mothers. I have experienced that lack in my constituency on the question of accommodation. I do not see much support for those who, having kept their babies, are in need of assistance. The additional funding provided for support services in the Bill is a step in the right direction. Fewer babies are put up for adoption although many families want to adopt a baby. With better services, counselling and guidance one would hope that progress will be made in that area. It is overdue and will be very welcome. I support the concept of this legislation, I hope it will be amended tomorrow.

I wish to share my time with the Minister of State, Deputy Emmet Stagg.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I express my deep appreciation to the Taoiseach, the Minister for Health, the Government Chief Whip and the Attorney General for the time they afforded me in explaining the Government position as well as listening to my difficulties in not being able to accept the Government's position on this Bill. I mean that sincerely and my actions tonight will in no way interfere with my relationship with these men. In fact, I sense that it will probably bring us closer.

For many years I have expressed publicly my anti-abortion views which are well known. On one special occasion, when Dr. Garret FitzGerald was Taoiseach, at a Fine Gael Party meeting I am on record as having said to him that I disagreed fundamentally and strenuously with any matter of public morality being debated in the Dáil Chamber, or going to the country on a party political issue. This is not the proper place to settle issues like this. None of us was elected to the House with skills or knowledge to deal with abortion. That was not the mission that brought us in here and we are not equipped to take the right decision.

I am now on the Government benches, yet if it had not been for an article in the press before Christmas I could have been addressing the House from the Opposition benches and many colleagues would be taking the same line as I am. In those circumstances the Fianna Fáil Party, many of whose Deputies can now oppose this Bill, would have been on this side of the House forcing their majority on the opposition, of which I would have been a member. You do not solve problems like the abortion issue by using majorities in Government over an Opposition; that is not the way it is to be done. I have been long enough here to realise that and I have been around the track many times in the last 15 or 16 years since abortion became an issue in public debate. Thank god that He has given me enough sense to recognise what is right to do and what is wrong.

I have come to the conclusion that the whole abortion issue centres on emotion and that everything attached to it is emotive. Politicians will score points off one another when they appear on television and when the matter goes into the public domain and the constituencies, the Deputy will tell his party's supporters what is his party line on this issue. Soon we will be talking about anything and everything except the issue to be debated.

If there had been time I would have implored the Taoiseach and his Cabinet Ministers not to rush into this but to give people like me an opportunity to come to terms with our difficulties with the Bill. I am sure that if common sense prevailed they would have responded. We are all looking for a solution to this problem but it will not be resolved in this House.

Any person who believes that this Bill will resolve the abortion issue is living in a fool's paradise. it is fraught with dangers. I have a problem in accepting the advice of the Attorney General and the former Attorney General to the Government. It is a legal argument and I have consulted legal opinion on it from men that I have known all my public life in the city of Dublin. There is another equally valid argument, however, and there will probably be two or three more, so the only way that the Attorney General's advice to the Government can be proven is by the Supreme Court adjudicating on it. Until then it is purely an opinion and, unfortunately for me on an occasion like this, it is an opinion that I cannot accept because he is defining the result of the referendum as having stated clearly that people are entitled to abortion information because of a decision of the people in the 1992 referendum.

I will read the wording: "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". I wonder if the people had been asked to vote on "information made available on abortion in another state" what the result would have been. That section is ambiguous. Any solicitor or lawyer will tell you that it can be interpreted any way you want. Unfortunately, I disagree with the Attorney General on his interpretation.

On the right to travel, the people voted on the wording "this section shall not limit freedom to travel between this State and another state". Who would vote against that? It would mean that we could not go on foreign holidays, to the United States or Britain, and that I could not go across the Border to Northern Ireland. It would be stupid for people to vote against that but if that section had read "this section shall not limit freedom to travel between this State and another state for an abortion" we would have got a different answer.

The reason I am making this point is that most of us acknowledge that abortion is anathema to the people. Nobody wants abortion but giving a doctor permission to give a name, telephone number and address of an abortion clinic in a foreign state is abortion by the back door. I am not a right wing politician, I am just Mr. average. I consider myself to be closer to the Labour Party than most Deputies in the Fine Gael ranks. I have very strong views on abortion and I cannot allow myself to support a Bill which gives a doctor or anyone else that type of authority or power.

On the question of information, the wording does not say "information on abortion" but "information for services lawfully available in any other state". Euthanasia is available in Sweden so does this mean that someone here can go to the court and seek information on euthanasia? Will the doctors have to give it? Who will give this information to the doctors? The Department of Health? Members of Fianna Fáil have asked if there is a fatal mistake, who will be responsible. The Minister, his Department or the doctor who gave the information? Prostitution is legally in many states. Does it mean that people can go into a Garda station and ask for drugs which are legally available in Holland? If a garda says he cannot provide that information will someone say that under the Constitution he is obliged to give it. The whole thing is ambiguous. It is weak law.

Let us try to figure out how we found ourselves here. I live in a Border constituency and cannot help noticing that since 1980 the tension that the abortion debate has generated in the South does not exist in the North. Why? It is the same law, the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act, introduced in Westminster by English people — very few of them Catholic if we want to make that point although it is not very relevant to my argument.

The law which prohibits abortion here dates back to the Offences Against the Person Act, 1861. There was no talk about abortion until about 1980 when a group of people decided that somehow, somewhere, some time, some person would challenge the law in the Supreme Court and have it declared unconstitutional and every hospital in the country would then act as an abortion clinic. Most of us knew that was simply nonsense, that it would never happen.

These people, for their own reasons — I do not doubt their integrity and good intentions — created an emotion which engulfed the Fianna Fáil Party. They persuaded that party and indeed the former leader of Fine Gael, Dr. Garret FitzGerald, into agreeing to a set of words to be included in the Constitution which would prohibit abortion. The story is that Dr. FitzGerald brought it to Mr. Peter Sutherland, the then Attorney General, who saw the mistakes and said it would not make good law. The argument then arose as to the strongest wording that could be adopted.

We were called abortionists although we were arguing for the strongest law to prevent abortion. Fianna Fáil jumped on the bandwagon for political gain. The amendment was put to the people and the weakest wording was adopted. This was claimed as a great victory by the pro-life organisation and by Fianna Fáil. Nothing would have been done were it not for the unfortunate development known as the X case when the family involved won the hearts of everybody in the country. That case was taken to the Supreme Court which gave a unanimous verdict in favour of the young girl leaving the State to have an abortion. I am informed by legal opinion that, while there was a unanimous verdict, the conclusions of the judges involved were contradictory. This led to another referendum on the right to travel and to information. Both of those items which were adopted by the people will prove to be as weak as their decision to support the wording of the 1983 amendment. It was wrong of the Supreme Court judges to make their decision at such an emotional time immediately after the X case.

This is an emotional subject. I appeal to all parties in the House to stop trying to resolve the abortion issue here because it is not an issue on which we can win. One difference between the North and the Republic is that in the North there is no constitution and therefore no tension although the same law applies in the North. There is nothing to threaten it such as a written Constitution. That is what makes the law here weak. I wonder will I hear Martin Smyth make anti-abortion speeches in the North. From speaking to people in the Protestant community in the North I know they are as anti-abortion as we are.

It has been stated in the media that I have reacted under pressure from groups such as the pro-life campaign, but that is not the case. I received a number of calls from people whom I suspect are members of that organisation, and to those who spoke to me in a mild, moderate, inoffensive tone, I replied in similar manner; to those who were aggressive, I was aggressive. In the early part of 1970 when tension was high in Northern Ireland I made anti-violence speeches opposing the IRA and the violence they perpetrated on the Protestant community in the North. Night after night a great number of people paraded outside my house but did not intimidate me. I stuck to my guns because I believed in what I was doing. Similarly, I am taking a stance tonight because I believe in what I am doing.

I would like to speak for much longer on this subject but the time limit prevents me from doing so. The Bill has been rushed through the House. Two weeks notice of the Bill and 20 minutes in the House to speak on it is insufficient. The Fianna Fáil Party is in disarray on this issue and members of the Progressive Democrats have been given a free vote, which is a very wise decision. The three Government parties are constrained by a three-line whip, otherwise a greater number of Deputies on these benches would have expressed their views.

Donegal went against the tide in the referendum on this matter: 16,936 people voted in favour of the amendment while 41,162 voted against it. My mandate in this House is to represent the people who sent me here. They voted against abortion. I too would vote aginst it tonight, but it would not be relevant and would serve no purpose. For that reason I shall abstain from the vote.

I thank Deputy Harte for sharing his time with me. A referendum was held in 1992 and the people decided to remove the prohibition on travel and the provision of information on abortion services abroad. There is now no restriction on the provision of information on abortion services available in other states — this not only refers to details of where such services are available but places no restriction on referral to such services.

This Bill seeks to regulate and restrict where, when and in what form information on abortion services in other states can be provided to Irish women. The Bill makes it a criminal offence for a medical doctor or any other person to refer a woman to an abortion clinic. I do not understand the argument that it liberalises the existing position; it clearly does not do so. Information will be restricted; it is not now restricted. Referral will be a crime; it is not now a crime. Advocating abortion as an option will be forbidden; that is not now the case. The Bill therefore is the minimum required to put into legislative effect the decision of the people in the referendum of 1992. I am disappointed a more generous interpretation of the people's decision is not being enacted. It is nonsense that a doctor or counsellor, having advised a woman of all the other options to pregnancy termination available to her, is criminalised if they advise the patient as to the best facility for the service she is determined to have. It is a serious intrusion by the State in the special doctor-patient relationship.

Much has been said inside and outside this House on this issue and the word "hypocrisy" has been used regularly. We all recognise that up to 5,000 Irish women travel to Britain each year to have abortions and do so without the benefit of prior or post abortion counselling. Perhaps the provisions of this Bill, which will enhance the level of counselling, will result in a reduction in that number. A sizeable number of Irish women will continue to opt for pregnancy termination — the figures stands at 10 per cent. Is it not hypocrisy of the highest level that we simply and knowingly export the problem and refuse to allow such services to be provided at home? That surely is an Irish solution to an Irish problem.

The Attorney General, we are told, has advised the Government that a Bill of this type which did not permit giving names and addresses of abortion clinics outside the State would be unconstitutional. The logical implication of that advice in general terms is that it is now lawful to provide that information. This Bill, therefore, does not make it lawful for the first time to provide such information, as the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution already did that.

The most that can be said of this Bill is that it acknowledges or redeclares what is, in any event, the law. If there were no such Bill, the Attorney General would, in the light of his advice, to the Government, be bound to go to court to uphold the right of women to receive names and addresses and if necessary to support the position of such women in any court proceedings taken against them on this matter. This Bill does not give women any new rights nor does it amount to even a modest advance in their position. It is, on the contrary, at best a deeply demeaning and begrudging acknowledgment of women's rights in modern Ireland as decided already by the people.

If this Bill were simply an acknowledgment of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution I would have no objection to it in principle, but it is much more than that. It couples that acknowledgment with a series of criminally sanctioned prohibitions which demean the intelligence of women, bring the law into disrepute, interfere with legitimate freedom of speech, subvert the position of the Irish media and invade the proper privacy, confidentiality and trust which characterises the relationship between patients, women patients in particular, and their doctors. In every respect this is a shamefaced and shameful Bill. It will, as time goes by, head the list of contemptible and embarrassing Irish statutes. Just as the collective idiocy which led to Irishmen and women requiring a doctor's prescription to buy condoms, it is being suggested that this Bill is a politically expedient measure and a compromise. I reject that description of it.

Some Members have argued with sincerity that the principle of the Bill is right but that it needs amendment. What is the principle of this Bill? I can quote extensively from Government speakers and I do not have to elaborate that this Bill does everything it possibly can to prevent the Fourteenth Amendment from having any real meaning, short of taking away from women the right to know the names and addresses of abortion clinics in England.

Sections 3 to 12 create a series of entirely new offences that strike at the heart of a liberal and democratic State. Section 3 makes it a criminal offence for anyone to import publicly what is termed "Act information" unless the information is truthful and objective and is not accompanied by "any advocacy or promotion of the termination of pregnancy". Section 3 will necessarily make many British newspaper articles, magazines, radio and television programmes incapable of lawful publication or retransmission in this State. It will also, as currently drafted, arguably criminalise any Irish author or broadcaster who participates in or contributes to such publications as they will be seen as "procuring the publication" of "Act information" in breach of this Bill.

I reject the effort of the Minister for Health, Deputy Noonan, and the Government to reintroduce mass censorship, not merely of the print and broadcast media, but also of the basic right to freedom of speech. I reject as wholly fanciful the notion that any woman would attend at a public meeting to gather "Act information" on her own pregnancy and since the section permits unlimited advocacy of abortion and transmission of "Act information" in private and by people to whom section 5 does not apply, the section is clearly no protection for the unborn but a case of creating a nauseating false facade of public morality.

The only section with which I am in sympathy is section 4 which deals with unsolicited propaganda and billboard advertising. Section 5 clearly applies to medical doctors. It proposes to prohibit and criminalise any doctor who, in the circumstances of the girl in the X case, advises that girl or her family that she should have an abortion. The section makes no exception of the circumstances recognised in the decision of the Supreme Court in the X case where it was found that a woman has a clear constitutional right to have a pregnancy terminated within or outside the State where "there was a real and substantial risk to the life of the mother". The Supreme Court held in that case that such a risk was not confined to a risk of immediate or inevitable death. In those limited cases it would be the right, if not the duty, of any doctor to give a woman his or her professional advice one way or another as to whether she would have an abortion.

I cannot understand how the Attorney General, for whom I have great respect, can possibly advise the Government that the right of a woman to have her pregnancy terminated in the circumstances suggested by the Supreme Court decision in the X case is vindicated by a law which prohibits her trusted advisers from recommending such a course or advocating it on good medical grounds. Nor can I see how in those circumstances section 8 (1) can possibly be constitutional.

The failure of this Bill to take on board the rights of women as found by the Supreme Court in the X case probably stems from the fact that it was in gestation when the substantive issue legislation was also being contemplated. Whatever the reason, the deep constitutional flaw here is that there is no provision for a woman in the circumstances of the girl in the X case and this Bill prohibits her doctor from giving her advice which he is now lawfully entitled to give her. In that context this Bill is flawed, holed beneath the waterline and will be found, if it is referred to the Supreme Court, on that basis alone to be unconstitutional.

This Bill has been represented by Government Ministers and speakers as being mandated by the Fourteenth Amendment. The Fourteenth Amendment does not oblige this State to enact a Bill of this type with the draconian criminal penalties and the clampdown on ordinary democratic behaviour, freedom of expression and ordinary relationships between doctors and patients. It is false to claim that it does. I have come to the conclusion that the Bill is unconstitutional because of the damage it does to the doctor-patient relationship. It is inconsistent with the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg in the "Open Door" case. Section 6 is inconsistent with the judgment of the European Court of justice in the Grogan case.

If section 5 and 8 infringe the Constitution on the grounds set out in the X case, sections 6 and 7 offend the Treaty of Rome and section 3 offends the European Convention on Human Rights, this is a very worthy monument to the Minister's respect for the Constitution and the rule of law. It is an Irish solution to an Irish problem. The Minister has a sad legacy.

I am surprised that the media have focused on the intricacies of the sham battle between the Minister and the pro-life lobby without any regard to what the Bill implies for a liberal and demoractic State, for the constitutional rights of women, as decided by the Supreme Court, for free speech and for the media. Where is the ever vocal NUJ now? Where are the champions of civil liberties? Where are the civil rights organisations which speak out so frequently on other matters? This Bill should have been opposed by all those bodies.

I was attracted by the argument of the late professor John kelly in 1983 that the Eighth Amendment should be accepted on the basis that, while unnecessary, its defeat could lead Ireland in the wrong direction. Now I am totaly guided by the maxim "once bitten, twice shy". This Bill, if passed will come back to haunt us and it will not fade away and gather dust on the shelf. Prosecutions will be brought under its provisions, magazines will be banned under it and programmes will be taken off air because of it. There will be disputes in the courts about it, doctors will be referred to the Medical Council because of it and will be subject to harassment by people trying to gather evidence to discredit and disgrace them. That is what this Bill is all about. Anyone who thinks that by passing this Bill all the problems will fade away should remember what happened at the time of the Eighth Amendment. Those of us who thought that the issue had gone away were rudely awakened to reality when the Bill came back to haunt us and we discovered that it had become a charter for a small self-appointed group of moral policemen to harass those in society with whom they strongly disagreed. This Bill is also a charter for that and we should not cod ourselves because that is what it will be in the last analysis.

I have come to the general conclusion that the majority of people want to steer a humane and cautious middle course between the extreme proposition that, on the one hand, a fertilised ovum is a human being with full and equal rights or, on the other hand, that an unborn child, no matter how close to full term, is disposable at the option of the mother. I completely reject the notion that any female is obliged to carry a pregnancy to full term where conception was based on rape, incest or sexual abuse of a child. As Deputy McCreevy said, many Deputies, if concerned with members of their own families, would take a different view from the hectoring moralising to which they have been subject from a small self-elected minority.

I also reject the notion that any woman who faces a real and substantial risk to her life should not be free to receive proper medical advice and full medical assistance to avert that threat. The prohibition in section 8 on doctors taking active steps to ensure the safety of their women patients is unconstitutional. Contraception should be made widely available. The present high rate of abortion among Irish women reflects inadequate access to proper contraception rather than any differnce in moral outlook. I completely reject the suggestion of some of the pro-life movement which would ban the use of the morning after pill on the grounds that it would murder a cell or a handful of cells.

The travel and information amendments were accepted by the majority of the people with clear knowledge of what was involved. I cannot accept the suggestion that those who urged a no vote in 1992, as the pro-life campaign did on the Fourteenth Amendment and other amendments, were misled in any way. The then Minister for Health acknowledged on television that names and addresses would be furnished as a consequence of the Fourteenth Amendment. The pro-life movement opposed the amendment in November 1992 because it would make lawful the provision of what is termed in the Bill "Act information".

I mention these matters to illustrate that there are many complex and subtle aspects of the abortion issue which cannot be reduced to simplistic formulae. The people understand these complexities far more deeply and profoundly than some of the self-appointed experts and moralising pundits.

In the light of these opinions and of the fundamental wrong which this Bill, if enacted, would constitute I am opposed to it in principle. It casts shame on the House because it betokens a sense of collective dishonesty on our behalf. It achieves nothing of substance for women except ignominy for those asked to acquiesce in the passage of this Bill. Since it achieves nothing new we would be better off without it.

I appreciate the irony of voting with those whose views are in many, though not all, cases radicallly opposed to my own but since I cannot identify any significant principle of the Bill with which I can agree and since I disagree in principle with nearly all of it, bar section 4, on constitutional, legal and moral grounds I feel obliged in conscience to oppose it.

I acknowledge that the vast majority of Deputies, including the Minister for Health and his Minister of State, are against the killing of the unborn. I also acknowledge that under the terms of the Fourteenth Amendment to the 1937 Constitution there is a constitutional inperative whereby the House must legislate on the provision of information. Where we part company is on what the information should consist of and the manner in which it should be imparted.

I take issue with those who have implied or stated expressly that Fianna Fáil did not have the right to make a decision on this matter. Last autumn Fianna Fáil decided that prior to the Cabinet agreeing to it the party would discuss the terms of the information Bill. It is history now but nonetheless, it is important to point out that no such Bill came before Government while Fianna Fáil was in power. At no stage did the Fianna Fáil Party consider an information Bill.

A great analyst once said of a democrat's position: "I do not agree with what you are saying but I would die to defend your right to say it". I would remind Government backbenchers and others that the test of any democracy is whether it allows opinions to be expressed. There was a democratic meeting of the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party and in an exercise in transparency, openness and accountability, to use those much abused words, the party decided by a majority that it was opposed in principle to this Bill. Let no one run away with the idea that the party did that to gain political advantage or that it was done for the sake of opportunism. Nothing could be further from the truth. Conflicting and opposing views were expressed. There was no diktat. It was a democratic decision made by a democratic party and I ask people to accept that in all honesty and sincerity.

The Minister made much play of the decision of the European Court of Human Rights. The court's judgment was delivered on 29 October 1992, a week after the information amendment Bill was debated in the Dáil and long after the proposal was first mooted in the aftermath of the X case. It cannot be argued that any consideration arising from the judgment formed any part of the public presentation of the information in question in the preceding months.

(Limerick East): Read your explanatory leaflet.

Such considerations are irrelevant to the Minister's task of regulating the provision of information in the light of the passage of the Fourteenth Amendment. Even if it was the hope or intention of some of the advocates of that amendment that such assistance would be rendered lawful, nowhere was such an intention made explicit, certainly not in the Government's booklet explaining the basis upon which voters were invited to support the amendment. It is unacceptable for the Minister to argue that he has no option but to render such assistance lawful — assistance inherently in conflict with existing provisions in the Constitution.

The amendment provides for the regulation by law of the information to be provided and it is incumbent on the Minister to have regard to the requirement of a harmonious interpretation of the Constitution. In a Supreme Court judgment in 1982 Mr. Justice Henchy said:

Any single constitutional right to power is but a component in an ensemble of interconnected and interrelating provisions which must be brought into play as part of a larger composition and which must be given such an interpretation as will fit it to an harmonious interpretation with the general constitutional order and modulation. It may be said of a Constitution more than any other legal instrument that "the letter killeth but the spirit giveth life".

Not only is the Minister not obliged to but he may not interpret the concept of information, neutral in itself, in a way in which would entertain an intolerable contradiction in the law, namely that while affecting to protect the unborn child against abortion it should be lawful to assist in the procuring of that abortion as long as it takes place outside the State.

It should be remembered also there was little or no debate on the information issue, it having been represented largely as if it were a matter of removing undesirable censorship. Let us remind ourselves that there was a general election on the same day as the referenda, which dominated public debate. Such debate as did take place on the abortion issue, subsequent to the calling of the general election and to the publication of the Government's booklet for the guidance of voters, was largley confined to the so-called substantive issue of abortion itself, on which there was already considerable confusion and misunderstanding. The public was left to rely largely on that booklet for an explanation of what was intended. If by "information" was meant abortion assistance provided for no other purpose but to facilitate the destruction of human life, that was nowhere stated, even by implication.

The European Convention on Human Rights is not part of Irish law and cannot override the Irish Constitution. I do not believe any Irish person would accept that any external legislative or judicial body should have the authority to limit in any way the extent to which we may protect the lives of unborn Irish children. Everyone knows — and we have been reminded repeatedly over the past few years — that Europe has no interest in our abortion laws, that these must be and are entirely a matter for the Irish people alone to decide. The judgments of the European Court on Human Rights against a member state are not legally binding, and certainly not in this instance. They are not part of Irish domestic law, despite the fact that the Minister tried to pretend otherwise, nor can the principles they support become part of Irish law if those principles conflict with the Irish Constitution.

We have stated repeatedly over the past week or so that the Government should await the outcome of the High Court case. The Minister says the Attorney General advises that the Bill must allow the giving of the names and addresses of abortion clinics. I remind the Minister that this is the very point at issue in the case of Dublin Well Woman Centre versus the Attorney General already initiated in the High Court. Mr. Justice Costello heard an application from SPUC to become involved in the action because the Attorney General was not opposing the Well Woman application. Mr. Justice Costello agreed to allow SPUC argue the case, with the right of appeal to the Supreme Court, because of the clash of interests involved and "the fact that the issues raised were of considerable national importance". No matter what may be anybody else's view, the High Court considered there was a serious point to be argued. Even if the present Attorney General is following Mr. Whelehan's opinion, the fact remains that the High Court has decided that the argument against the constitutionality of the giving of names and addresses is not frivolous or absolutely without foundation.

There is no question of there being a constitutional right to have an abortion abroad. The unborn child's constitutional right to life is not geographically limited and it would be a wrong interpretation to read into the travel amendment a right to have an abortion outside the State. The effect of that amendment simply was to remove the power of injunction under Article 40.3.3 to prevent someone from travelling abroad; it did not establish a right to have an abortion in England, nor did it cancel the unborn child's constitutional right to life.

For all those reasons the only sensible course the Minister and Government can take is to delay further consideration of this Bill pending the decision of the courts on the very point that is disputed. After all, that is what was adopted as the correct procedure by the Government in relation to introducing legislation allowing for a referendum to be held on the issue of divorce. The Government decided it would not legislate pending the decision of the Supreme Court on the Judicial Separation and Family Law Reform Act of 1989.

Limerick East): I thank all Members who contributed to this debate. Their contributions ranged from the profound to the bizarre, from the compassionate to the uncaring, but everybody is entitled to their views. Even though I had occasion to doubt the sincerity of some Members, at least I agree they reflected opinion in this country in the diversity of their views. It is my hope also that the introduction of this Bill has not caused too much grief to colleagues on all sides of the House because I understand there was a lot of representation and much lobbying on the Bill.

This was a very difficult Bill to draft, having to follow a difficult, narrow path between competing constitutional rights. We are all aware of the constitutional position since the 1983 amendment was passed and the explicit right to life of the unborn was enshrined in the Constitution. The equal right to life of the mother has also been enshrined in the Constitution but, since 1992, those two rights can be vindicated only in a manner which does not violate freedom to travel or access to information which all citizens enjoy. That brought about circumstances in which there are many competing constitutional rights, rendering it difficult to draft legislation without bumping into one or other of those competing rights. Nonetheless I believe I have done so in the Bill presented to the House.

Many Members have suggested amendments. Amendments to the Bill will be equally difficult to draft because of the competing constitutional rights and the amount of case law that has accumulated already, but as a number of amendments have been tabled already and others will be I will consider them on their merits. If they are appropriate to the Bill and go to its improvement, I will accept them, subject to whatever drafting changes the Attorney General's office considers necessary.

One amendment, familiarly known as the conscience opt-out clause, has caused a lot of debate and concern within the House. There is nothing whatsoever in the Bill which compels anybody to give information about abortion — that is implicit in everything said in the Bill — but if, for presentational reasons or reasons of easier understanding, such an amendment is considered to be necessary on Committee Stage, I should like to hear Members' views. I have no rooted objection to its inclusion in the Bill.

Some colleagues have suggested that the Bill is unconstitutional. Among those, Deputy Alan Shatter made a very strong case. I have been advised that the Bill is constitutional — I would not have presented it on any other basis — but I should like to tease out the arguments made by Deputy Shatter on Committee Stage. He has great expertise on all aspects of family law and his views are most welcome. Deputy Shatter, among others, suggested that the Bill should be referred by the President to the Supreme Court under Article 26 of the Constitution. That is entirely a matter for the President but I am very much aware of the reassurance the general public derives from the provisions of Article 26.

We shall be voting on the Second Stage of this Bill at 10 o'clock this evening. As every Members knows, the vote on Second Stage asks whether one agrees or disagrees with the principle of a Bill. Having listened to this debate, I fail to understand how anybody can vote against the principle of regulating the manner in which information may be provided in accordance with the wishes of the people expressed by a 60:40 majority in 1992. The text of that amendment itself requires us to legislate. The heads of the Bill were prepared, by and large, by the Fianna Fáil/Progressive Democrats coalition Government. Substantial work was carried out on it by my predecessor, Deputy Brendan Howlin, in the Fianna Fáil/Labour coalition Government and the present Fine Gael/Labour/ Democratic Left coalition unanimously agreed its introduction. All parties in this House had a hand in this Bill; all parties in Government agreed the principle of this Bill. I cannot understand how they would disagree with that principle on the floor of the House this evening.

Despite that, Fianna Fáil has advanced three grounds for opposing the principle of this Bill. First, they have said the Bill would allow persons to supply names and addresses of abortion clinics and hospitals to pregnant women, and they disagree in principle with that proposal. That is not so. There is no reference to names and addresses in the Bill. That is a constitutional right since the people voted on the relevant amendment in 1992 and both the present Attorney General and his immediate predecessor have vouched for that. Fianna Fáil has now dropped this argument and indicated that it will not seek to amend the Bill in this way but rather oppose it, on principle, on different grounds. They say the Bill was badly handled, rushed through, giving them no chance to consider its provisions. I challenge that contention. What is being said is not true.

I would point out that paragraph 29 of A Government of Renewal specified that the legislation would be introduced as soon as possible.

As far as I am concerned, "as soon as possible" is as soon as I have it ready, get it through Government to introduce it to the House and have agreement on it with our partners in Government. On the Order of Business on 7 February, the Leader of the Progressive Democrats, Deputy Harney, asked the Taoiseach when the Bill would be introduced and he told her quite bluntly that it was imminent. I know that other Deputies, including Deputy Geoghegan-Quinn, were not here that morning and may not have heard that. An assurance was given in this House on 7 February and Deputies who were listening would have known that in the normal course of parliamentary language we were within a few weeks of the publication of the Bill. The Cabinet agreed it at the first available Cabinet meeting on 21 February and it was published on 23 February. I postponed its publication for a day so that it would not clash with the publication of the Framework Document.

Anybody who has read the detailed guide issued with this Bill would know it was not a rushed job. As well as an explanatory memorandum every Deputy was issued with a detailed guide, the most detailed one ever issued with a Bill. An agreement to take Second Stage last Thursday was reached following consultation with Deputies Ahern and Harney. The introduction of the Bill was not rushed.

Deputies across the House have decided now that they will oppose Second Stage on the grounds of a court case pending. That case commenced nine years ago and is now before the High Court. We know the contending parties, that in all likelihood the case will be appealed to the Supreme Court and will certainly be before the courts for another two years. Other cases may arise also on associated issues and which may result in litigation. Are we to duck, dodge, weave and bob for a generation before we carry out our constitutional obligations? There is no guarantee that the court will deal with this issue, it may simply raise the injunction. That was the advice of the then Attorney General, Mr. Whelehan, when he advised the Government that in effect there was no case. What are we waiting for? A complex judgment may be handed down. Many Deputies appear to act as if a judgment in this case will give us the heads of a Bill. They should look at the judgment in the X case and ask how you put that into the heads of a Bill if you are waiting for the Supreme Court to give them the heads on which they can easily legislate.

None of the three grounds put forward by Fianna Fáil in opposing this Bill stands up as a matter of principle on examination of the facts. It is blindingly obvious that there can be no objection in principle to this Bill by any party in this House, but there can be from people outside the House who advocated a "no" vote because that was — and is — their principled position. However, that is not the position of the parties here because everybody participated in one way or another in preparing this legislation. However, if Fianna Fáil still intends, as appears to be the case, to vote against the principle of this Bill, so be it.

I would like to put another principle before the House tonight. Members are elected to legislate for all the people without fear or favour in accordance with the Constitution and should not be inhibited from doing their duty by forces outside this House who seek to intimidate us. I call on all Deputies by their vote to reject the intimidation of TDs, attempted by Youth Defence and other fringe groups. I call on all Deputies by their acclamation for this Bill tonight to reject the pressure put on them by various interlocking organisations, both overt and covert, which constitute the pro-life movement. I call on all Deputies to reject the intrusion into our proceedings by a High Court judge who in a piece of ludicrous hyperbole sought to involve us in the guilt of the new holocaust. I call on all Deputies tonight to reject those who would reach back into the mists of history and try to pressure us with the ghostly weapons of bell, book and candle. That has not been done since the War of Independence when people like Deputy Deasy's father were excommunicated by the bishop of Cork.

I call on Fianna Fáil to stand for the primacy of Dáil Éireann. I call on Deputies on all sides to ensure that the word goes forth from this House that this Dáil, with Seanad Éireann, in accordance with the provision of the Constitution, makes the laws by which the people live their lives. That is the principle and I want the Bill to be passed by acclamation.

I am now required to put the following question in accordance with the order of the Dáil of 7 March: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

Question put.
The Dáil divided: Tá, 85; Níl, 67.

  • Ahearn, Theresa.
  • Allen, Bernard.
  • Barrett, Sean.
  • Barry, Peter.
  • Bell, Michael.
  • Bhamjee, Moosajee.
  • Boylan, Andrew.
  • Bradford, Paul.
  • Bhreathnach, Niamh.
  • Bree, Declan.
  • Broughan, Tommy.
  • Browne, John (Carlow-Kilkenny).
  • Currie, Austin.
  • Deasy, Austin.
  • Deenihan, Jimmy.
  • Dukes, Alan M.
  • Durkan, Bernard J.
  • Ferris, Michael.
  • Finucane, Michael.
  • Fitzgerald, Brian.
  • Fitzgerald, Eithne.
  • Fitzgerald, Frances.
  • Flaherty, Mary.
  • Flanagan, Charles.
  • Gallagher, Pat.
  • Gilmore, Eamon.
  • Gregory, Tony.
  • Harney, Mary.
  • Higgins, Jim.
  • Higgins, Michael D.
  • Hogan, Philip.
  • Kavanagh, Liam.
  • Kemmy, Jim.
  • Kenny, Enda.
  • Kenny, Seán.
  • Keogh, Helen.
  • Lowry, Michael.
  • Lynch, Kathleen.
  • McCormack, Pádraic.
  • McDowell, Derek.
  • McGahon, Brendan.
  • McGinley, Dinny.
  • Bruton, John.
  • Bruton, Richard.
  • Burke, Liam.
  • Burton, Joan.
  • Byrne, Eric.
  • Carey, Donal.
  • Connaughton, Paul.
  • Connor, John.
  • Costello, Joe.
  • Coveney, Hugh.
  • Crawford, Seymour.
  • Creed, Michael.
  • McGrath, Paul.
  • McManus, Liz.
  • Mitchell, Gay.
  • Mitchell, Jim.
  • Moynihan-Cronin, Breeda.
  • Mulvihill, John.
  • Nealon, Ted.
  • Noonan, Michael (Limerick East).
  • O'Donnell, Liz.
  • O'Keeffe, Jim.
  • O'Malley, Desmond J.
  • O'Shea, Brian.
  • O'Sullivan, Toddy.
  • Owen, Nora.
  • Penrose, William.
  • Quill, Máirín.
  • Quinn, Ruairí.
  • Ring, Michael.
  • Ryan, John.
  • Ryan, Seán.
  • Sargent, Trevor.
  • Shatter, Alan.
  • Sheehan, P. J.
  • Shortall, Róisín.
  • Spring, Dick.
  • Stagg, Emmet.
  • Taylor, Mervyn.
  • Timmins, Godfrey.
  • Upton, Pat.
  • Walsh, Eamon.
  • Yates, Ivan.

Níl

  • Ahern, Bertie.
  • Ahern, Dermot.
  • Ahern, Michael.
  • Ahern, Noel.
  • Andrews, David.
  • Aylward, Liam.
  • Blaney, Neil T.
  • Brennan, Matt.
  • Brennan, Séamus.
  • Briscoe, Ben.
  • Browne, John (Wexford).
  • Burke, Raphael P.
  • Byrne, Hugh.
  • Callely, Ivor.
  • Clohessy, Peadar.
  • Collins, Gerard.
  • Coughlan, Mary.
  • Cowen, Brian.
  • Cullen, Martin.
  • Davern, Noel.
  • Dempsey, Noel.
  • de Valera, Síle.
  • Doherty, Seán.
  • Ellis, John.
  • Fitzgerald, Liam.
  • Flood, Chris.
  • Foley, Denis.
  • Fox, Johnny.
  • Foxe, Tom.
  • Gallagher, Pat the Cope.
  • Smith, Brendan.
  • Smith, Michael.
  • Treacy, Noel.
  • Geoghegan-Quinn, Máire.
  • Haughey, Seán.
  • Hilliard, Colm M.
  • Hughes, Séamus.
  • Hyland, Liam.
  • Jacob, Joe.
  • Kenneally, Brendan.
  • Killeen, Tony.
  • Kitt, Michael P.
  • Kitt, Tom.
  • Lawlor, Liam.
  • Lenihan, Brian.
  • Leonard, Jimmy.
  • Martin, Micheál.
  • McCreevy, Charlie.
  • McDaid, James.
  • McDowell, Michael.
  • Moffatt, Tom.
  • Molloy, Robert.
  • Morley, P.J.
  • Moynihan, Donal.
  • Nolan, M.J.
  • Noonan, Michael (Limerick West).
  • Ó Cuív, Eamon.
  • O'Dea, Willie.
  • O'Donoghue, John.
  • O'Hanlon, Rory.
  • O'Keeffe, Batt.
  • O'Leary, John.
  • Power, Seán.
  • Ryan, Eoin.
  • Wallace, Dan.
  • Wallace, Mary.
  • Woods, Michael.
Tellers: Tá, Deputies Barrett and Ferris; Níl, Deputies D. Ahern and Callely.
Question declared carried.

The Bill will be considered in Committee tomorrow, Thursday, 9 March 1995, in accordance with an Order of the Dáil of 7 March 1995.