(Limerick East): I thank Deputies Geoghegan-Quinn and O'Donnell for debating these issues. The debates on this amendment might be more productive in reducing the number of abortions than the debate heretofore. On Second Stage I gave a number of commitments. One was to provide for significant research to ascertain why so many Irish women travel abroad to have a termination of pregnancy and also to discover why so many Irish women have unwanted pregnancies in the first instance.
As we move from an authoritarian type society, aspects of which we have seen during the course of this debate, some people are left with a vacuum in their lives. If people are used to authority and being instructed on what to do, they do not know what to do when that authority is no longer there. The only way to fill the vacuum is to ensure that through our education system and society people become fully autonomous individuals, in control of their personal lives and make the necessary decisions to ensure that is the case.
As the authority with which this generation and former generations were familiar wanes, it is not appropriate that it be replaced by a total fecklessness where people do not take responsibility for their lives. That is particularly true in respect of family planning. Through a combination of carelessness and alcohol, both on the part of women and men, unwanted children are often conceived.
This amendment raises a wider issue to which I will refer later. In other west European societies people appear to be more in control of their destinies, prepared to take responsibility for their lives and are not always looking to third parties, such as the law, the Church, guards and teachers, to make decisions for them. That is missing in our society. In that respect I have given a commitment to provide for research in this area. Perhaps the ERSI, the health promotion section of the Department or a university with the necessary resources would carry out research to ascertain why so many Irish women have crisis pregnancies in the first instance and why so many of them end in an abortion. Such research could ascertain what procedures or facilities can be put in place which would result in the number of crisis pregnancies being reduced? Obviously a researcher would need access to information from agencies both in the United Kingdom and Irish organisations, such as LIFE, CURA, Cherish, Irish Family Planning, Medical Services, the Well Woman Centre which I hope would be given freely and openly. I can give an assurance that no confidential information will be revealed.
I am committed, like Deputy Geoghegan-Quinn and Deputy O'Donnell, to a full family planning service here. It is possible to argue that as the contraceptive pill is the only contraceptive available on the GMS, there is a serious lack in facilities available. I take Deputy Geoghegan-Quinn's point that the availability of family planning is uneven throughout the health boards, not only in isolated and remote area but even in large centres of population, depending on the ethos of local health board managers. I would like to remedy this.
My objective is to have an all inclusive family planning service suitable to the needs of women available throughout the country in a manner which would be standardised either by directive or regulation from the Minister for Health so that the same level of accessibility and range of services is available to women in every part of the country. I am not making this commitment in the way they are sometimes made in politics to a sound principle by someone who does nothing about it. I hope to make progress in this area shortly. I will not force my own views on individual health boards in the first instance, I will issue guidelines and allow time for consultation. Following a couple of month's consultation when health board members have had an opportunity to comment on my proposals I will issue guidelines which will make it mandatory on health boards to provide the type of family planning service we require.
On the issue of counselling I am committed to a sum, in the first instance, of £200,000 this year as against £70,000 being spent through the health boards. I am open to advice from Deputies on how best it should be spent. I do not need to amend the Finance Bill, or the allocation for health boards. I have retained some discretionary spending for the remainder of the year and I will be able to allocate money for this purpose. The commitment to £200,000 is the first allocation.
On the wider issue of counselling, I do not know the views of Deputies on standards, whether a code of counselling should be drawn up, whether there should be a single approach to training counsellors or whether it should be approached from a number of different agencies' positions where there would be various methods and practices rather than a standardised practice across the country. I am subject to advice on that.
I am in full agreement with the line of argument pursued by Deputies Geoghegan-Quinn and O'Donnell in respect of research on family planning and counselling. My only difficulty is that I do not consider the Bill an appropriate vehicle in which to include an amendment to cover the items suggested. Maybe counselling should be put on a statutory basis. If so, a general health Bill would be the place for it. I will be introducing a general health Bill in the autumn and under its general sections I will consider whether it would be appropriate to put counselling on a statutory basis. It may not, I have not decided the principle yet. If it is appropriate, it may be possible to do so by way of statutory regulation rather than by primary legislation. I give a commitment to have the matter examined. I know the Deputy will return to the matter by way of parliamentary question, debate on the Health Estimate or wherever the opportunity arises.
I will have research carried out but I need some weeks in which to tease out the position with whatever agency will be involved. I do not want to be tied by Statute to terms of reference. I take the spirit of what has been offered here as a good guideline and I do not have a difficulty with it.
We already have family planning Acts. It will be possible for me to extend the scope of family planning under the GMS by ministerial directive rather than enshrine it in primary legislation by way of amendment here. I can meet the policy objectives of Deputy Geoghegan-Quinn in practically all respects but I cannot enshrine it here by way of amendment. If that satisfies the Deputy we can return to these issues again and I shall keep her fully informed of progress.