Supreme Court Ruling in the X Case: Motion (Resumed) [Private Members]

The following motion was moved by Deputy Mary Lou McDonald on Tuesday, 20 November 2012:
That Dáil Éireann:
- extends its deepest sympathy to the family of Savita Halappanavar and recognises that news of her death in such tragic and traumatic circumstances has caused distress to people throughout the country and beyond;
- resolves to await the outcome of the ongoing inquiries into all aspects of this tragedy;
- acknowledges that the Oireachtas must legislate to give effect to the 1992 judgment of the Supreme Court, the X case;
- further acknowledges that the absence of the required legislation denies women protection and the right to obtain a termination in life threatening circumstances and it also creates an ambiguous legal situation for clinicians in those same circumstances;
- regrets that successive Governments and Ministers for Health have failed to legislate in this regard; and
- calls on the Government to:
- immediately publish the report of the expert group; and
- immediately introduce legislation to give effect to the 1992 judgment of the Supreme Court in the X case, to protect pregnant women where their lives are in real danger and to give legal certainty to medical professionals.
Debate resumed on amendment No. 3:
To delete all words after "Dáil Éireann" and substitute the following:
"extends its deepest sympathy to the family of Ms Savita Halappanavar and recognises the very strong feeling of the Irish people in the wake of her death;
awaits the outcome of the investigation into Ms Savita Halappanavar’s death to be chaired by Professor Sir Sabaratnam Arulkumaran;
welcomes the submission to the Minister for Health of the report of the expert group to address the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights in the A, B and C v. Ireland case and recognises that this group was established on foot of a commitment given in the programme for Government;
notes that the terms of reference of the expert group were as follows:
— to examine the A, B and C v. Ireland judgment of the European Court of Human Rights;
— to elucidate its implications for the provision of health care services to pregnant women in Ireland; and
— to recommend a series of options on how to implement the judgment taking into account the constitutional, legal, medical, and ethical considerations involved in the formulation of public policy in this area and the overriding need for speedy action;
acknowledges the complexity and sensitivity of the issues involved and supports the Minister for Health’s decision to bring the report to Government on Tuesday, 27 November and his recommendation that it be then published immediately; and agrees that the report of the expert group should be discussed in the Houses of the Oireachtas over the coming weeks in advance of a Government decision on the matter and that the Whips should meet to make the arrangements for such discussions at the earliest opportunity."
- (Minister for Health)

I commend Sinn Féin on tabling the motion. While some accused it of opportunism, if the party had not tabled the motion, it probably would have been accused of cowardice. It is hard to win sometimes.

I will use my time to analyse the recent statement issued by the Standing Committee of the Irish Catholic Bishops' Conference. I take issue with the view that the current state of affairs as regards abortion law somehow protects women or that pregnant women receive all the treatment they need. According to the statement of the standing committee, "international statistics confirm that Ireland, without abortion, remains one of the safest countries in the world in which to be pregnant and to give birth." Statistics on maternal mortality rates are often produced by anti-abortion advocates as if they were evidence that Ireland's ban on abortion, one of the most restrictive and antiquated in the world, protects women. This is not the case. While Ireland, as a developed country, has a relatively low maternal mortality rate, to imply that this is because of our archaic and barbaric laws on abortion is completely false.

According to the report, Trends in Maternal Mortality: 1990 to 2010, published recently by the UN Population Fund, World Health Organisation, UN Children's Fund and World Bank, Ireland has a maternal mortality rate of six per 100,000 live births. Ranked above Ireland on the list is Greece, where abortion has been fully legal since 1983, which records three maternal deaths per 100,000 live births. Similarly, in Estonia, where abortion on demand is available until 12 weeks of pregnancy, the maternal mortality rate is two per 100,000 live births. In contrast, Pakistan and Uganda, countries with abortion bans similar to the ban in place in Ireland, have maternal mortality rates of 260 and 310 per 100,000 live births, respectively. Clearly, Ireland's relatively low maternal mortality rate is not a result of our extremely restrictive abortion ban and cannot be used as a legitimate argument against legislating for the X case and safe and legal abortions on wider grounds. On the contrary, women who have conditions which may become life threatening are advised by their doctors to have terminations in the United Kingdom, rather than take their chances with hospitals here. If this option were not available, it is probable that Ireland's maternal mortality rate would be higher.

Two decades on from a ruling by the highest court in the land, the Government and international human rights bodies have not been able to find evidence of a single lawful abortion carried out in the State. This proves that failure to give legislative effect to the Supreme Court ruling means women living in Ireland are forced to travel abroad to access this medical procedure. In other words, women who can afford it are being exported with no consideration given to the potential impact on their psychological health.

I express my condolences to the family of the late Savita Halappanavar on her tragic and untimely death at University College Hospital, Galway. I support the Sinn Féin motion. It is vital that we obtain the full facts on Savita's death and the public must have confidence in any investigation or inquiry. At yesterday's meeting of the Joint Committee on Health and Children, I called for a full public sworn inquiry into this matter. I also support calls for same made by Savita's husband, Praveen, and the Irish Council for Civil Liberties. The proposed Health Service Executive inquiry is a complete shambles. This is not surprising as my experience of dealing with the HSE is that it is an arrogant organisation that is out of touch with reality.

I was surprised that the Minister for Health and Taoiseach signed off on an inquiry that is clearly not independent. Irrespective of the outcome of the inquiry, the Dáil must legislate without delay for the outcome of the X case. There is no reason to wait for the outcome of the inquiry. In 1992, the Supreme Court found that termination is lawful where a woman faces a real and substantial risk to her life and the outcome in the X case has been endorsed twice by the public in referendums. In 1992, the late Mr. Justice Niall McCarthy stated that legislation was well overdue. He noted that the "failure of the Legislature to enact the appropriate legislation is no longer just unfortunate; it is inexcusable." How much more inexcusable is the failure to legislate 20 years after Mr. Justice McCarthy made his remarks? The courts and citizens have spoken on this matter yet six successive Governments have failed to act. This Oireachtas and Government must take their responsibility seriously and introduce the required legislation without delay and on an emergency basis.

It is critical that legislation is introduced immediately to provide for the termination of a pregnancy which threatens the life of a woman. That this has not happened in the 20 years since the Supreme Court ruled that it was permissible under the Constitution is testament to the cowardly prevarication of the political establishment in this State. However, such legislation, which should be enacted in view of the tragic death of Savita Halappanavar, is now wholly inadequate. It may emerge that the critical delay of a termination in Ms Halappanavar's tragic case was a result of the grey zone between, on the one hand, damage, even of a serious nature, to the health of a woman and, on the other, a certain risk of death. We have heard the testimonies of numerous women who tragically found themselves with unviable pregnancies, the continuation of which would have resulted in serious damage to their mental or physical health but were unable to receive the safe legal termination they needed in this State and, shamefully, were forced to travel abroad, thus adding to their suffering, distress and financial burdens. The circumstances of these women were not provided for in the 1992 Supreme Court judgment in the X case and nor can they be certain that they will be provided for when legislation is enacted in respect of the X case.

To emphasise this point, I have tabled, on behalf of the Socialist Party, an amendment to the Sinn Féin motion which "notes that the 1992 Supreme Court judgment in the 'X Case', seeks to protect the life and not necessarily the health of the woman, leaving health care workers in a position where they are compelled to tolerate a threshold of illness, suffering and deteriorating health in a pregnant woman, including to the point that her life is endangered" and "calls for the drafting of legislation providing (where this is requested by a woman) for termination of a pregnancy which threatens her mental or physical health and in cases of conception by rape or incest and for an informed national debate on the constitutional change". Every year, between 4,000 and 5,000 women travel by choice outside of the State to avail of an abortion. Their choice must be provided for.

The views of ordinary people, especially the young, are light years ahead of those of the political establishment. By mobilising their anger and opposition in increasing numbers in every community, they must force the tardy legislators of this House to do what is necessary.

I too support the motion and I am pleased it is being discussed in the House. I am also glad the Government has responded to it by announcing it will publish the expert group report in which every citizen will be interested. Given that this debate is being conducted in the public domain, it is entirely appropriate that all relevant information should be made available. For this reason, I support the call of the family of Savita Halappanavar to have her case dealt with in the public domain.

Having had four expert groups deliberate on this issue, it is unlikely we will be surprised by any new expertise emerging from the report. This issue is not especially complicated. Other jurisdictions manage to deal with abortion in a reasonably simple manner without entering the quagmire the Irish State has created for itself. As a first step, legislation is required and in this regard I support the call for legislation in the motion. However, my amendment complements what Sinn Féin is calling for by preparing the ground to reintroduce the Bill I moved in the House in April. The Minister will be pleased to note that we have made the corrections he suggested at that time and I presume he will not have any difficulty in supporting our legislation on this occasion. While this legislation is important and we will not allow the Government to hide behind it, it deals with a small number of cases and does nothing to address the issue of thousands of women leaving the country every year to avail of abortion. They do so for many different reasons, none of which is easy and all of which are valid. The State has a responsibility to address this issue.

This debate has highlighted in the hearts and minds of people how inappropriate it is to have in the Constitution a clause which equates the life of the unborn with the life of a woman. That is the root cause of the problem and the reason we cannot have better legislation to deal with the many different aspects of this issue that people desperately want the Oireachtas to address.

I am referring to victims of rape, people with foetal abnormalities and the other situations that need to be addressed. It is inappropriate that this women's health clause is in the Constitution. We need to repeal the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution. The Labour Party has for decades made itself out to be a campaigner for women's rights, but what is the point in coming to power if it does not implement its principles?

I call Deputy Buttimer, who is sharing time with Deputies Paul J. Connaughton, Billy Timmins, Robert Dowds, Ann Phelan, Michelle Mulherin, Derek Keating, Eamonn Maloney and Liam Twomey. Deputy Buttimer has four minutes.

We are debating this issue at a time when the entire country is deeply saddened by the death of Savita Halappanavar. The untimely death of that lovely lady is a deeply shocking tragedy and I sympathise with her family and her husband, who are undoubtedly struggling to come to terms with the events of the past month.

I wish to acknowledge the dignity and courage of Mr. Halappanavar in dealing with the circumstances of his wife's death. As those of us who have lost someone know, dealing with a death is difficult in the privacy of the family home, but to do so in the full glare of the national and international media compounds these tragic circumstances. That a young woman in the prime of her life should pass away in the care of a hospital raises serious concerns. An investigation with independent oversight of the full circumstances of this tragedy is required. The Government's establishment of an independent investigation team led by a leading international expert is an attempt to get the answers that we all want and seek. The Taoiseach and the Minister for Health have openly and clearly stated that they want to establish the full facts. This is what we all want.

I hope that there can be a dialogue between Mr. Halappanavar and the chairman of the independent investigation committee so that we can allow the inquiry to proceed. At yesterday's meeting of the Joint Committee on Health and Children, Mr. Tony O'Brien of the HSE confirmed that he was willing and available to meet Mr. Halappanavar. A direct meeting on a without prejudice basis may be the best approach.

The past week has brought into focus the wider issue of the A, B, and C judgment and how the State will address the findings of the European Court of Human Rights. The Government has acted. In 18 months, an expert review group has been set up and will report. The Cabinet will have that report next week and the House will debate it in due time.

The termination of a pregnancy, be it by direct intervention or as a consequence of medical treatment, is a serious matter. We have heard from medical professionals about the difficulties that they face. We have heard from women who have faced similar difficult decisions. The House has an obligation to ensure that medical professionals and women have legal clarity. We cannot allow a situation to continue in which doctors are uncertain as to what they can and cannot do.

I very much welcome that the Minister is bringing the report to the Cabinet next week and that we will debate it. Our discussion will facilitate the deliberate consideration of the report and it will enable a rational approach that will hopefully provide legal clarity to medical practitioners and women who find themselves in very difficult circumstances. The Government has listened.

In conclusion, we need a thought-out, considered and timely response to the report of the expert group. However, the primary motion before the House is ill-thought-out, ill-considered and ill-timed. It is exactly what is not needed at this time when addressing a complex and sensitive issue. It calls for the immediate publication of the expert group's report and for immediate legislation. Instead, we need a full, open debate on the report followed by a Government decision, whatever that is. That is what we should be doing, not engaging in cheap political gamesmanship in this House.

I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for the opportunity to contribute on this sensitive motion. I join with my colleagues in the Chamber in extending my deep sympathy to the family of Savita Halappanavar. What happened to Ms Halappanavar was a dreadful tragedy and a huge loss for her husband and their family. Answers as to why this happened are required and it is important that the inquiry announced this week gets under way as soon as possible. I hope that it also reports as soon as possible. It is what the Halappanavar family deserves.

I welcome the fact that the report of the expert group will be published next Tuesday. This move is the correct one. I have always agreed with the Minister for Health and the Taoiseach that the report should be published and that we must wait to see what recommendations are contained therein. For this reason, I cannot support tonight's motion. Until the investigation into the reasons for Ms Halappanavar's death is concluded, it behoves Members on all sides of the House not to apportion blame or to jump to conclusions. Instead, we must wait for the facts of the case to be presented to us. I regret that Mr. Praveen Halappanavar does not have confidence in the HSE inquiry instituted into her death. I recognise fully his concerns that colleagues of those who were responsible for her care in Galway University Hospital should not be involved in the inquiry. I welcome the fact that this matter has been addressed via the replacement of three Galway-based consultants on the inquiry team.

The Government is seeking to establish what will be an objective, fair and timely inquiry into the matter. It is imperative that the facts of this case be ascertained quickly and that the findings made available as quickly as possible. A public inquiry would not be the best or most prudent method of conducting such an investigation. Given the length of time taken to get to the nub of issues in the various tribunals, a public inquiry could slow the process significantly and descend it into interminable legal wrangling.

As legislators, something must be done on this issue, but it is important that we wait to get all of the evidence before taking the next step. We are all aware that abortion is a divisive issue for political parties, work colleagues and families. However, this should not take from the fact that action may need to be taken, largely because of a failure of successive Governments to face up to this issue for the past 20 years.

I wish to extend my deep sympathy to the family of Savita Halappanavar on her sad and tragic death. Having listened to recent interviews with her husband, Praveen, one can only imagine the pain that he is experiencing. It is added to by his view that she was denied life-saving treatment to which she was entitled under the Constitution and a Supreme Court judgment.

I also wish to acknowledge the trauma that the health care workers who dealt with her case must be suffering. This extends to all of those who have experienced similar situations, such as the family of the late Tanya McCabe. A review of her death carried out by the HSE found that she had died from sepsis, with haemorrhaging as a complicating factor. The review team identified two care management problems. First, a working diagnosis of ruptured membranes was not made during Tanya's first admission to hospital. Second, septic shock was not recognised or diagnosed following her second admission and caesarean section. A number of recommendations were made, many of which are applicable nationally. I hope that the review committee appointed will examine whether these have been implemented. I hope that they have been. The report also recognised that the health care workers had undergone a significant trauma and suffered feelings of guilt and personal responsibility. I am sure that the same applies in this case.

Last month, Concern launched a mother-to-mother campaign dealing with maternal mortality rates. Ireland has one of the best records in the world, with a maternal mortality rate of 17,800:1. In Britain, the rate is 4,700:1. In France, it is 6,600:1. To depict Ireland as an unsafe place in which to have a child is incorrect and unfair to our medical practitioners. However, one death is too many. Savita's case, aligned with the imminent publication of the report of the expert group on the X case, has reignited the debate on abortion and the right to life. One associates the term "most divisive issue" with this debate. However, there is a large middle ground with much in common.

Although I await the report of the review group, some circumstances may require medical intervention to save the life of the mother. This is a complex issue. While most acknowledge that there is a problem, solutions are difficult to find. A charge of political cowardice has been levelled at the House, but a charge of an inability to achieve a satisfactory solution is more applicable. Legislation in some form will most likely be part of that solution. A study of the landmark cases in the USA - Roe v. Wade - and Britain - Rex v. Bourne - demonstrates the difficulties and consequences, as does the change in positions of Ms Norma McCorvey, alias Jane Roe, and Dr. Alex Bourne.

I commend the Taoiseach and the Minister for Health on their handling of this issue.

I hope we will all have an opportunity to deal with the upcoming report and what course of action should be taken because a course of action must be taken in a calm and considered way following a debate to which a relevant period of time is allocated.

The tragic case of Savita Halappanavar and the report of the expert group in regard to the A, B and C case is forcing us to confront an issue we have dodged for far too long, namely, the right to an abortion where a mother's life is at risk. It is my view, and that of the Labour Party in its election manifesto, that we must have legislation to give clarity as to when an abortion is legal in a situation where there is a risk to the life of the mother. I say this even though I have no great desire to see widespread abortion in Ireland.

However, as women know much better than men, the approach of new life throws up very many messy situations and as the X case and the A, B and C case have shown, some of these situations demonstrate the impossibility of the rights of the mother and the fetus being equal. Who takes precedence, for example, when the mother has cancer? At what point can a medical practitioner say definitively that the life, as distinct from the health, of the mother is sufficiently at risk to necessitate an abortion? Is it not vital to protect the mother's life, most especially if there are other children to be looked after? In my view, it is. While I regard myself as pro-life, I very much take that to mean that I am pro-life first and foremost for the mother and if her life is at risk, then the mother should be entitled to whatever treatment she needs, including abortion. We must, and I stress must, provide legislation to reflect this and the House has failed to do this for 20 years.

Added to this, I am convinced that very few Irish people would insist on a woman who has been raped having to bear the child of her rapist. What parent or husband would not support a daughter or wife if confronted by such an appalling scenario to do whatever she felt was for the best?

The Labour Party, in our election manifesto, stated we would legislate in accordance with the Supreme Court judgment and the ruling of the European Courts of Human Rights, and we got plenty of stick for this. The reality is that if Britain was not on our doorstep, we would have had to introduce abortion legislation years ago to avoid women dying from having back street abortions.

When most Irish retain a huge respect for the right to life, we must have an honest and open discussion on this subject and come up with legislation we can live with. As this is first and foremost a women's issue, they should lead the discussion, If it were constitutionally possible, I believe the decision should be left entirely in women's hands. It is not a man's body that is on the line when carrying a new baby. That is why is should be left to women.

I extend my deepest sympathies to the family and friends of Savita Halappanavar. This is a tragedy of epic proportions and something no family should have to go through, particularly as it would appear to be a preventable death of a lovely young woman. I have my doubts about the real motivation behind this Private Members' motion and believe it is a cynical exercise where we are using the death of a young woman to further political gains.

Given the X case and this awful tragedy, we have a duty to Savita's family and the people of this country to ensure this is an honest, mature and respectful debate. We all know there are sensitivities on all sides. Six successive Governments failed to implement legislation in this regard, and we certainly cannot be the seventh. Procrastination is time's worst enemy. Like most of my colleagues, I am not prepared to wait another 20 years to bring clarity to this issue. We can no longer deny basic human rights to women in difficulty.

We are prepared to legislate as soon as we have all the recommendations before us. When this Government was elected, we made a commitment to the people that we would deal with this sensitive and very complex issue. It was agreed by the Labour Party and Fine Gael, as part of the programme for Government, that we would await the recommendations of the expert group. In the absence of this information, I voted against the Bill brought before the House last April by Deputy Clare Daly. The expert group's report is now with the Minister and will be brought before Cabinet next week where a debate on the recommendations will take place.

The death of Savita Halappanavar at University College Hospital Galway was heart-breaking and shocking in the extreme. We have read and heard various accounts from the media surrounding the manner of Savita's death and I am aware that this case has galvanised public opinion. However, I would stress that these investigations are ongoing and we are still unaware of the full facts.

This has always been part of the Labour Party's policy and we do not need prompting from a party which is using the situation to further its own political profile. What we are sure of is that this type of tragedy must be prevented from occurring again. It is imperative that the inquiry into Savita Halappanavar's death is dealt with as expeditiously as possible. It is because it is such an emotive issue that I believe Private Members' business is perhaps not best placed to deal with it as it should be dealt with openly in the House.

I extend my sincere condolences to Savita Halappanavar's husband, Praveen, and their families on the great loss and heart-break they now endure. I note Praveen has acknowledged that the need for an inquiry is not just about Savita but about all women. Therefore, I would like to appeal to Praveen to co-operate with the inquiry the Government is trying to undertake and to come on board.

When we go into hospital for whatever private and personal medical reason, it is a matter of public interest that we receive appropriate treatment to accepted and established medical standards. Therefore, it is important that we establish as soon as possible whether there was a systems failure in our health service in this case which we expect to protect the life of the mother. However, as lawmakers we must park the emotions of this case. What we have to do now is focus on the report of the expert group. I urge the Minister to publish it as soon as possible and I understand that is his intention.

We have to be clear that in this country there are already medical standards in the law and in medical ethics. The European Court of Human Rights in the A, B and C judgment ruled that the Irish law struck a fair balance between the right of the mother to a private life and the right of the unborn. The law in our country requires that when life-threatening complications are identified in a pregnant woman, doctors not only can but must act to preserve the life of the mother. This may result in ending the pregnancy prematurely and the consequent death of the unborn child. That is lawful. If these accepted medical standards are not met, then the question is, why? That is the question to be put in the case of Savita Halappanavar with the proper objective medical and legal evaluation of the standards.

The idea that legislation will provide the absolute clarity we would like is not true. The decision as to whether there is a real and substantial threat to the life of the mother in order for a medical intervention to proceed which may result in the death of the unborn child in accordance with the X case is first and foremost a medical decision. We must acknowledge the considerable difficulty, perhaps impossibility, of drafting any legislation or guidelines which could successfully prescribe each and every situation in which there is a threat to the life of the mother which would entitle the doctor to act. It is ultimately a decision made by a doctor in a given situation using his or her best professional knowledge and judgment. The Irish Medical Council already has guidelines in place to guide a doctor in this situation in accordance with the law.

There is talk of the requirement of clarity for doctors but the real problem is who signs off on the medical decision. What is really needed is a decision-making mechanism to be put in place for these life-threatening cases. There can be no time to dither when these critical decisions have to be made. I do not believe an individual doctor, who could have his or her own personal views on the issue to contend with, should make this decision, rather what is needed is a panel of highly qualified medical doctors for each region or HSE area who could come together at short notice to make a decision when a pregnant woman wishes to invoke her right to have her own life protected or when a treating doctor has a doubt.

In conclusion, I welcome the fact that the report is with the Minister and I look forward to its publication for a broader debate as soon as possible. Ultimately, no decision about whether legislation is necessary or what form that legislation should take can be made without the benefit of the deliberations on the core issues in the A, B and C judgment by the expert group and its recommendations to guide us.

I have already had the opportunity to express publicly my condolences and my heartfelt feelings to the family of Savita, whose tragic circumstances one can only imagine.

It is very difficult for me to discuss or even contemplate the subject of abortion without recalling an experience I had when I encountered a very good friend a long time ago. It is an experience I will never forget. The person came to me distressed, distraught and unable to come to terms with having returned from England after recently having had an abortion. Under the circumstances, it is important to approach this subject in a calm way. I believe we are now within touching distance of finding a solution. This Government has said it will be the last Government to confront this and that it will not pass on the legacy of having to deal with it to another Government.

It is, therefore, incumbent on all of us on both sides of the House, from all parties and none, to pull back from headline making and political point scoring. I am absolutely shocked at Sinn Féin. I have already asked that the motion be withdrawn. It is ill-timed, opportunistic and political. The party who put down this Private Members' motion has censored one of its own members from speaking. It is important that we are not political at this time. It is easy to be angry but that will not yield solutions. Each of us has the opportunity and responsibility to ensure that when we deal with this as a Government, Parliament and nation the women of this country will have the assurance that they will receive the best possible medical and gynaecological care they need and deserve and that the medical profession is protected in the future, as well as the needs of the unborn children. I believe that is within our grasp. For that reason, this motion is ill-timed, politically motivated and opportunistic.

I will conclude by repeating the words of the Tánaiste. To do nothing is not an option and that is not our option. The people of this country deserve to see the report furnished to the Minister for Health. The Taoiseach and Tánaiste have been apprised of it and the Cabinet will have an opportunity to consider it next Tuesday. That will be followed by the debate and then the decision.

All Members of the House have, in good faith, demonstrated their sympathy and regrets about the tragic death of Savita. However, as other Members have said, it is disappointing that Sinn Féin put down this motion, given its nature. Parliamentarians must be careful, regardless of where they sit in the House. When somebody's life is ended in the way this woman's was we should be very careful in this House, given our track record, about double speaking or hypocrisy on this issue. I am disappointed with Sinn Féin, particularly as there are some things on which I agree with Sinn Féin, although there are many on which I disagree.

I was involved in the 1993 campaign and, above all, the campaign in 1983, when people's names were read from pulpits, one was spat at on the street and it was brought up with one's children in school. Not many heads came up out of the clay during the 1983 campaign. That included Sinn Féin, and in the 20 years since it has never featured in any of that party's campaigns. Now there is an opportunity for Sinn Féin and others to make a cheap headline, because it is available, and to condemn the Labour Party for not bringing forward legislation. The Sinn Féin Members can go ahead and do that, but we should be clear about one issue. Legislation on this issue was contained in the manifesto of just one party in the recent general election, the Labour Party, and it was referenced three times.

The Labour Party has nothing to apologise for on this issue. We have been ready and willing to deal with it since 1993. The only problem is that we did not have 83 votes to pass the legislation. That is the nuts and bolts of it. Others, including Sinn Féin, are responsible for the situation in which we now find ourselves. In fact, if Sinn Féin had been negotiating a programme for Government last year, as we were, that programme would have contained no commitment to deal with this issue because it was not in that party's manifesto. It was in ours.

The Government will deal with this issue, as is stated in the amendment. It will be dealt with, as the Minister said, in the deliberations next Tuesday and there will be no dodging the issue. The Minister has made that clear. The full report of the expert group will be published and we will then see who stands where on this issue. However, let there be no doubt about where the Labour Party stands. No woman whose life is threatened by an unhealthy pregnancy should be allowed to die.

The tragic events in Galway will never be forgotten by Savita's family, but we should respect her memory in how we use this case with regard to the issue we are debating tonight. I have dealt with women who have returned from the UK with complications of termination, and I have advised women on how they can get support to go to the United Kingdom. I worked in obstetrics and gynaecology as a junior doctor and I have seen how things can go dramatically wrong for patients in our hospitals. I do not believe anything is so black and white as is often painted here. This is an extremely complex and emotional matter and it is something we should discuss in a rational manner.

One of the best aspects of what has happened this week is how the middle ground in this country is participating in the debate. It is not being left to people who are labelled pro-life or pro-choice. People are realising that there are different circumstances in patients' lives and that we must legislate for them. It is clear that we must do something about it. We still have the safest hospitals in the world and people should not knock that. Our hospitals are fabulous for a pregnant woman; they look after patients brilliantly.

However, there is huge uncertainty about the legality of certain procedures for doctors and patients, and there is a need to deal with that conclusively and to make up our minds exactly what we wish to legislate for. There is much I would like to say about the Medical Council guidelines. They are very uncertain and ambiguous. There is a need for strong legislation on how doctors can work in these very complex cases. When we are discussing this in the next couple of months I ask Members to try to reach out to the vast majority of people and find out what they want, and not allow our judgment to be clouded by our strong personal views. That is the only way we can do the best for the citizens of this country. I urge people to participate in a very measured debate in the forthcoming weeks because I believe we have reached a point where ordinary men and women are taking part in this discussion in a rational way and they now expect us to act rationally.

I compliment the Minister, Deputy James Reilly, on acting in that manner. Let us all carry on like that.

Sinn Féin should not have to table this motion and I should not be making this speech. The thousands of people who took to the streets in the freezing cold on Saturday to demand the Government introduce legislation for the X case should not have had to be there. They should not have had to march through the streets of Dublin and Galway and hold vigils in towns around Ireland to make their voices heard when they said "never again". The Irish people who stand outside Irish embassies in the United States, Berlin, Vienna and London should not be there.

I do not disregard the divisiveness of the broader issue of abortion rights and access in Ireland. I believe in Christian values, values and teachings that are about love, compassion, respect and empathy. These are values that are not just central to me in life but also in how I conduct myself as a person elected to represent the people of my constituency.

My party's policy, as repeatedly agreed by our membership, is in line with those values. Sinn Féin is not in favour of abortion. We believe all possible means of education and support services should be in place. However, in cases of rape, incest and sexual abuse, or in which a woman's life and mental health are at risk or in grave danger, Sinn Féin accepts the final decision should rest with the woman concerned.

There are those who would argue against allowing abortion in the circumstances of rape and while, for them, it is an issue of conscience, rape and sexual crimes are one of the greatest violations a man can commit against a woman. Short of killing her, there is possibly nothing worse a person could do to a woman. It is a heinous crime. I could not and I would not ask any woman to bear the child of her rapist. The Rape Crisis Network of Ireland released statistics that showed in 2010 that 75 women who were pregnant as a result of rape used their services. Due to the nature of under-reporting of sexual crime, the real figure of women who found themselves in that situation is probably much higher. The organisation stated:

The RCNI would have concerns that any rape survivor would be subject to restrictions and would have to travel oversees to another jurisdiction in order to access a termination.[...] Rape Crisis Centres will continue to support survivors in making decisions which survivors feel are the right choices for their circumstances.

This is the key point. What is the right choice in their circumstance? If abortion was to be allowed in those circumstances, no person would be compelled to have one. Even church teachings hold a deep regard for an individual's conscience and, when discussing the matter of a woman who is pregnant as a result of rape, whose conscience takes priority? Is it the woman, a rape victim, seeking the procedure or the legislators who must provide a legal framework for her to access it? This is a discussion that I can see taking place further down the road. Like the grounds for the X case, it is something that we will end up revisiting.

With regard to the motion, it is very simple. The people have spoken and it is time for the Government to introduce legislation for the X case. The Government amendment to our motion simply notes that the expert group is examining the matter and it will propose a range of options as to how the Government should respond to the "complex and sensitive issues". Convening the expert group was a cop-out on the part of the Government, which knows that legislation has been needed since 1992 when the Supreme Court judgment in the X case was handed down. This was reiterated by the European Court of Human Rights in 2010 when it delivered judgment in the A, B and C v. Ireland case. It is a scandal that for 20 years, seven Governments have failed in their duties to women on this issue. I was a teenager when the X case took place. Never did I think I would be standing here, at nearly 40 years of age, as an elected member of the Dáil seeking legislation on that very issue. The expert group was convened as a way of delaying matters further. It was a way of ensuring Government Deputies did not have to come into the Dáil Chamber and place on the record where they stood on this.

Rather than giving a clear commitment to legislate for the X case, we hear from Government representatives a more nuanced position of calling for legal clarity. We must be clear that a statutory instrument will not suffice; this matter requires primary legislation. If a statutory instrument is produced, Government Members know it will be subject to legal challenge but it may be an opportunity to put off the inevitable - legislating - for just a little longer.

Over the past week my inbox has been filled with e-mails from people from my constituency demanding not that something be done about it but making a clear demand that we must legislate for the X case. The motion calls for legislation to provide women with access to abortions in cases where there is a risk to their lives. That is not to indulge in hyperbole. We must make no mistake that it is about life and death situations. No pregnant woman in Ireland should ever have to worry that, if something goes wrong in her pregnancy, she will be faced with a medical practitioner who refuses her the necessary treatment because of a legal vacuum that legislators in this House have stood over for 20 years.

Women should know that if their lives are in danger, they will be saved and doctors should know that if a woman's life is in danger, they can treat her appropriately. I have heard people say, throughout the course of the debate, that there is no medical condition in which a pregnant woman needs an abortion to save her life. While I am conscious there is an inquiry into the death of Savita Halappanavar, I respectfully suggest her grieving husband Praveen would beg to differ on that point and the husband of Sheila Hodgers may agree with him.

The death of Savita Halappanavar has shocked and saddened people throughout Ireland. It has underlined in the most tragic way possible the need for long overdue legislation in the State. The Government has stated its intention to bring forward legislation but successive Governments have failed to deal with the issue for 20 years. It is time, finally, for legislation to protect the rights of women as decided by the Supreme Court in 1992. This should be done in a reasoned, tolerant and considered manner and with maximum cross-party consensus. On this basis, Sinn Féin has tabled a Dáil motion that seeks, in a measured and reasoned way, to get our Government to act and to fulfil its responsibilities so that appalling situations, such as that which led to the death of Savita, can never happen in this country again.

It is almost beyond belief that, once again, we find ourselves in the Chamber discussing the lives of women in the context of life, pain and death. In the past 12 months, the House has debated the rights of women incarcerated in the Magdalen laundries, symphysiotomy and, more recently, the disgraceful cuts to the working hours of home helps, the majority of whom are women. The common thread that links these issues is that the Government of the day is acting against the wishes and interests of the women concerned.

Unfortunately, this should come as no surprise to us. The history of the relationship of the Irish State with women or issues that concern women is abysmal. We see this in the infamous mother and child scheme, in the hepatitis C scandal, in the Neary case at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda and in countless other tragic and avoidable incidents. Sadly, the list is endless and women have paid a heavy price for the often draconian and conservative ethos deeply ingrained in the institutional apparatus of the State. The historical and contemporary evidence supports the assertion that, since its foundation, the Irish State has, more often than not, acted not in the interests of women but in the interests of powerful organisations like the Catholic Church and the medical profession. The message has been loud and clear: the State not only preserves the status quo but also reproduces its peculiar brand of Irish patriarchy, and successive generations of women have borne the brunt of it. For thousands of women, this has resulted in incarceration, while for others it has meant stigmatisation, poverty, repression, guilt, and invisibility. More profoundly, it has meant women in Ireland have had almost no control over their bodies. The tragic death of Savita Halappanavar is yet another reminder of the State's failure to respect the autonomy of adult women and to afford them their due rights.

Sinn Féin recognises that the subject of abortion is a very sensitive and divisive issue for people. As a party, Sinn Féin is not in favour of abortion.

We are, however, of the opinion that the onus is now most definitely on the Government to legislate without further delay to protect the rights of women in accordance with the Supreme Court ruling of 1992.

The European Court of Human Rights has also ruled that the Irish State violates the rights of pregnant women by refusing to allow them to terminate their pregnancies when their lives are in danger. North and south of the Border, Sinn Féin supports robust guidance that protects the life of the mother. We are not a pro-abortion party and we have never supported the extension of the 1967 Abortion Act in the North. We are however in favour of creating a more caring and equal society where the rights of all women are respected and guaranteed by the State and its institutions.

Many images of Savita Halappanavar have been in circulation since her tragic death. However the most profound of all is a short video clip that shows a smiling, happy young woman in the prime of her life dancing freely without a care in the world. Being pregnant in Ireland placed Savita Halappanavar at risk and, as we now know, this resulted in her premature death. This is a shocking waste of human life and a profound and tragic loss for her husband, family and friends.

The Government has a unique opportunity to ensure that Savita Halappanavar did not die in vain. It also has a chance to demonstrate to women in Ireland that the State is not anti-women and that it respects their right to autonomy and bodily integrity. No amount of legislation can bring Savita back to life, but legislating for the X case in accordance with the Supreme Court ruling can go some way to ensuring that this situation never occurs again.

First, I extend my sympathy to Praveen Halappanavar, the husband of Savita, to their family and friends and to the wider Indian community on their sad loss.

Last night and this evening, I sometimes wondered if I had actually been elected to speak on behalf of my constituents and my party. Some comrades to my right seem to think they own the franchise on the abortion issue and on any issue associated with it. With other members of Sinn Féin, I have taken stick over the years on this issue and on the issue of divorce. I did not see the Labour Party campaigning on either issue in County Laois, which I represent. The record will show that. The abortion franchise does not belong to Deputy Ciara Conway or to anyone else on the Labour Party benches or the Sinn Féin benches. This is an issue for all of us.

The death of Savita Halappanavar has shocked and saddened us. This preventible tragedy sent shockwaves across the world, with thousands of people attending rallies and vigils here and abroad. The eyes of the world are on this country, and particularly on its legislators. What shocked the world were the circumstances surrounding Savita's death. A healthy woman died, apparently because she could not receive the medical treatment she deserved.

We are having a debate and a vote tonight that should have taken place 20 years ago. A number of governments have been in place since 1992, when the Supreme Court judgment was handed down. Those governments have been made up of various coalition partnerships, but we are not in the business of passing blame. For various reasons, legislation was not put in place. The fact that it was not put in place probably caused Savita Halappanavar, and maybe other women, to lose their lives. This is no longer acceptable.

Sinn Féin called, a number of days ago, for the publication of the report of the expert group and that it be made available to the Opposition. I welcome the announcement that this is to happen. It is a step in the right direction. No amount of debate will bring back Savita Halappanavar to her loving husband and grieving family. What we can do, within the next hour or so, is to start a process to ensure that this never happens again.

Over the past 20 years, we have heard testimonies from women who needed a termination as a life-saving measure and could only receive that in England. They were advised to go to England. That is disgraceful and unacceptable in a sovereign State. Our medical services must be able to provide this treatment without confusion or threat of legal action. I am sure the Minister, as a medical person, will agree with that.

We can no longer hide behind reports and inquiries. We must legislate, as a matter of urgency. The women of Ireland, and pregnant women, deserve no less from us and from the Government.

Sinn Féin policy on this issue is crystal clear. There are huge differences of opinion on abortion in every party. There are huge differences in the Labour Party. Labour Party members might not like to admit this but I have heard them articulate some very contrary positions on the issue. There have been rows and arguments within the Labour Party on the issue, as there have been debates and arguments in every party, including our own. The Sinn Féin position on this is clear. We have a clear policy. We believe women have the right to a termination in the case of rape, incest or sexual abuse or when a woman's life or mental health are at grave risk. Sinn Féin has never supported the extension of the 1967 Abortion Act to the North. Even well-informed commentators who are former barristers appear not to know that legislation already exists in the North to allow for a termination where there is a risk to the health or life of a woman. What is required is updated guidance from the DUP Minister. We have been trying to influence him in that direction. If members of any other party can help us with that we would welcome it. We support robust guidance to protect the life of the mother.

Our position, North and South, is consistent. Introducing legislation for the X case based on the 1992 Supreme Court judgment, as our motion proposes, will harmonise the law on this matter North and South and bring it closer. No amount of mischief making or distortion by journalists, commentators or opposition politicians will change that.

Our motion is reasonable and fair. I sincerely believe this needs to happen and my party colleagues share this belief. We are trying to give a voice to the concern that has been awakened since this tragic incident last week. The motion is balanced and, we believe, acceptable to most Deputies. I urge Deputies from all parties to set aside their personal positions, face up to their responsibility and push for legislation on this matter.

The recent death of Savita Halappanavar has shocked people throughout the world. Tens of thousands of people took to the streets of cities and towns throughout the State to express their shock and their sympathy to her husband, Praveen. I also sympathise with Praveen Halappanavar and the family of his wife, Savita.

While we do not know the exact circumstances surrounding her untimely death and must await the various investigations, there is no doubt that questions remain unanswered and need to be answered. The terrible tragedy has reignited the debate on abortion, which has divided Irish society for many a decade and is doing so yet again. Whenever the issue of abortion is debated publicly, labels of pro-choice and pro-life are used to describe people with opposing views. If one was to apply one of those labels to my own view on abortion I would be described as pro-life. I do not believe in abortion. I never have and I never will. I know there is a group of people who, when they hear me say that, will be disappointed and disapproving. Their opinion of me will be that I do not respect women or that I am trying to dictate what a woman can or cannot do with her body. Nothing could be further from the truth. Nothing I say, however, will change their opinion, just as they will not change mine.

However, as strongly as I oppose abortion I also strongly oppose any attempt to stigmatise or criminalise women who have had abortions. I may have my strongly held personal views on the issue but I want to make it clear that those who attempt to criminalise or stigmatise women who have had abortions are wrong to do so and need to stop.

Some will say it is easy for me to stand here and state that I am against abortion. I will never find myself faced with that predicament. They are correct.

I do, however, know what it is like to suffer the loss of an unborn child. I know what it is like as a father to stand helplessly by while the life of an unborn child I and my wife created slipped away, and I have had to endure that pain on more than one occasion. Despite my opposition to abortion, I believe that women are entitled to the best medical care and treatment throughout the duration of their pregnancy. I also accept that, in rare cases, doctors must intervene to save the lives of women, even if by doing so it is inevitable that this will end the pregnancy, resulting in the death of the unborn child due to immaturity. It is a sad but unavoidable reality.

There are those listening to this debate tonight who, like me, oppose abortion and there are those who believe that abortion should be an option available to women regardless of the circumstances, but that is a debate for another night. Tonight we are discussing a very specific set of circumstances, the provision of medical intervention in life and death situations. As someone who describes himself as pro-life, I could not in good conscience stand over a health system that would hesitate or delay, due to a lack of legal clarity, giving appropriate medical treatment to women when there is a real and substantial risk to their lives. To stand over such a situation is not pro-life in my opinion as both lives may be lost in cases where that medical treatment is delayed or denied.

The motion before us this evening calls for the Government to do two things: to publish the report of the expert group and to legislate for what is known as the X case. On the first point I welcome the commitment by the Government to publish the report next week. On the latter, I know there are some who will be of the opinion that there is no need to legislate for the X case as existing Medical Council guidelines provide adequate protection for women whose lives are at a real and substantial risk. On reading the guidelines, one can see why some people may hold that view. The Medical Council guidelines state: “Abortion is illegal in Ireland except where there is a real and substantial risk to the life (as distinct from the health) of the mother." The guidelines go on to state that "it may be necessary to intervene to terminate the pregnancy to protect the life of the mother, while making every effort to preserve the life of the baby". The argument could be made, and has been made, that there is no reason, excuse or legal impediment that a woman faced with a real and substantial risk to her life would be denied a medical intervention to save her life, even if that intervention results in the termination of her pregnancy. I say that, however, as a person who will never be faced with having to make that decision to intervene and give medical treatment to a mother whose life is at risk which results in the termination of her pregnancy.

The issue we face as a society is how the Supreme Court ruling and the Medical Council guidelines are viewed and implemented, or not being implemented as the case may be, by those tasked with the responsibility of intervening to save the life of a woman. No one, whether they are pro-life or pro-choice, could argue that we can allow a situation exist where there may be uncertainty about when a member of the medical profession can intervene to save a woman’s life. There is no room for grey areas here; women die in those grey areas and that is unacceptable to me as someone who is pro-life.

As I said previously, I know many doctors are seeking legal clarity and the Government has said that it will provide this legal clarity but has, to date, failed to state how or when it will do so. I want to see this certainty given to our doctors. More importantly, I want women who are faced with a real and substantial risk to their life to know that if there is a need for medical intervention to save their lives, they will be able to get it without delay. For me this is what any legislation brought forward needs to achieve: certainty for the medical profession and reassurance for women. Equally as important, however, for me given my opposition to abortion is the protection of the life of the unborn. Any medical intervention to save the life of the mother must also be matched with every effort being made to save the life of the unborn. This will not always be the case but it must be the objective.

Over the past few days I have received many telephone calls, e-mails and texts from those who share my opposition to abortion, asking me not to support the motion before us tonight.

They fear that the introduction of any such legislation giving legal clarity on when doctors can intervene is the thin edge of the wedge and may result in the opening of the floodgates to abortion on demand. Introducing legislation to give legal clarity to the medical profession, to give reassurance to women faced with a real and substantial threat to their lives and to ensure that every effort is made to save the life of the unborn, will not, in my opinion, open any floodgate to abortion on demand.

Some have also tried to suggest that Sinn Féin, in putting forward this motion, is pro-abortion. Sinn Féin is opposed to abortion on demand, a term I dislike. What Sinn Féin is in favour of, and we have never hidden this fact, is legislation to protect the lives of women faced with a real and substantial risk to their lives. We make no apology for that. As an individual who is pro-life and opposed to abortion, I must set aside my own personal views, no matter how uncomfortable that may be for me personally, and face up to my responsibility as a legislator. Failure to do so could put the lives of women at risk and I am not willing to allow that happen while I have the power to do something about it, regardless of my personal view on abortion. I will not bury my head in the sand like those who served in this House before me for the last 20 years and try to wish the problem away. I refuse to do that and shame on anyone who does.

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for giving me this opportunity to respond to the debate. Before I do so, I would like to add my voice to the expressions of sympathy this House has extended in the course of this debate and elsewhere to Mr. Halappanavar and his extended family for their tragic loss in Galway.

As the Minister for Health said yesterday, it is incumbent on us as public representatives to take action to make sure the lives of pregnant women are protected and that the clinicians who provide care to them can operate within a clear and ethical legal framework. As we heard during last night's debate, the Minister for Health intends to recommend the publication of the report of the expert group on the A, B and C v. Ireland judgment of the European Court of Human Rights immediately following next week's Cabinet meeting.

The European Court of Human Rights in the A, B and C case criticised the legal position in Ireland as offering no accessible and effective procedure to enable a pregnant woman to establish if she qualifies for a lawful termination of pregnancy in accordance with Irish law as it currently stands and that, therefore, legal clarity was required. Manifestly, legal clarity is required; there can be no doubt about that and I have not heard a single person in the course of this debate who would disagree with the necessity for legal clarity to be brought to the situation arising from the case in the European Court of Human Rights.

When we last debated this issue in April, the Dáil agreed to await the outcome of the deliberations of the expert group.

The Government agreed.

That was the position taken by the Dáil on that occasion.

It was the Government position.

The Dáil voted. The Deputy might be aware that we have a parliamentary democracy and a vote was taken.

The Government won the vote.

The Bill introduced by Deputy Daly was not accepted by the House on the basis that the Dáil would await the conclusion of the work of the expert group. Whatever validity there was to the argument that it represented a cop-out, it has disappeared now. The House has been told the report will be published on Tuesday. It will be published and available to all Members to consider and examine.

They can then decide if they think the report is a cop-out. However, they should read the terms of reference Mr. Justice Ryan's group was given, which were as follows:

To examine the A, B and C v Ireland judgment of the European Court of Human Rights; to elucidate its implications for the provision of health care services to pregnant women in Ireland; and to recommend a series of options on how to implement the judgment [I emphasise that it was how to implement the judgment and not whether to implement the judgment] taking into account the constitutional, legal, medical, and ethical considerations involved in the formulation of public policy in this area and the overriding need for speedy action.

The expert group has been tasked with bringing forward recommendations for options on how to implement the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights, which is what I expect the report to do. Everybody in this House will have an opportunity to look at that.

There have been arguments across the House about people's motivations regarding Sinn Féin's motion, but we will leave that aside as we come to the end of this debate. In large part it has been a good debate, but it nets down to one issue. The Sinn Féin motion calls for the publication of the report, which will happen. Regarding the outcome of the decision from Strasbourg the motion also calls for legislation. I have no doubt the option of legislation will feature in the report of the expert group - how could it not? As the group was asked how to implement the decision of the court in Strasbourg, manifestly legislation will be one of the options the report will outline. Perhaps there will be another option in the report as to how to deal with the matter because the group was asked to deal with the various options. The Deputies opposite can test that themselves and look at it next week.

Has the Minister of State seen it?

No. Next week they will have a proper debate in this House as to which of the various options in the report - not whether we take action - is the proper way forward.

I believe Deputy Mac Lochlainn said earlier that he would be opposed to addressing this by way of a statutory instrument. I am sure the Deputy knows it is not possible to have a statutory instrument other than in connection with primary legislation. A Minister cannot promulgate a statutory instrument unless it is linked to an Act of the Oireachtas. The Deputy should be careful when he makes claims that people are proposing doing this in particular ways. Let us look at what the report says.

So the Government will legislate for the X case.

Please allow the Minister of State make his point. Deputy Mac Lochlainn got silence when he was making his points.

We are not debating legislation - at least Deputy Clare Daly, as a parliamentarian, brought proposed legislation to the House. If we were to pass the Sinn Féin motion tonight, it would make absolutely no difference. It is a motion calling for something to happen and not legislation.

Why is the Government so worried about it?

Why is the Government so anxious about it? Why will it not support the motion? It is just ridiculous.

Deputy Mac Lochlainn always gets very excitable when he is being challenged - he should just wait. Sinn Féin may be serious about the outcome it wants. Unlike others I am prepared to give at least some of its Members the benefit of the doubt that they are serious - although I wonder when I hear the remarks I have just heard. If they wanted the outcome they claim and wanted to serve the women of Ireland by ensuring there is legal clarity and a proper solution to this problem, they would not play games with a motion calling for something to happen at some stage.

Whatever validity there was about this cop-out argument a year ago, there is none now. They will have the report next week and will have the chance to test all the options. They will see the various possibilities and be able to bring forward change. As all of us, including the Tánaiste, have said, doing nothing is not an option. What do we have now? We have the report going to Cabinet, its publication next week, a debate in these Houses and the Government commitment to make a decision. When that is put together it adds up to a great deal more than a motion simply calling for something to occur.

I begin by placing on the Dáil record my deepest sympathy to the family and friends of Savita Halappanavar whose tragic death has moved people across Ireland and across the world. I pay tribute also to the courage of Savita's husband, Praveen, and their family for speaking out about their ordeal in such forthright terms, though the attention this has brought can only have made their time of mourning more difficult. In doing so the family has sought justice for Savita and safety for women who may face similar situations.

It should not take the tragic death of a woman in an Irish hospital to alert legislators to the need to address long-identified deficiencies in our laws relating to the protection of the life of an expectant woman, but it has done so. It has alerted the thousands of people who demonstrated around the country in recent days under banners bearing two most powerful words - never again. The tragedy has again challenged us as legislators to step up to the mark on this most difficult issue and no political party is immune from that.

I refute the spurious accusations that people who have come onto the streets in the wake of this tragedy are opportunists. The same accusation has been made against Sinn Féin's tabling of this motion. It is a most insensitive accusation. There is no party political advantage in this for any party represented in this House and there is certainly none for Sinn Féin. The opportunist approach, in terms of seeking party political advantage, would be to try to avoid the issue as much as possible. There is ample evidence of this across this Chamber and in the utterances and media performances of some beyond these walls. However, we have not done so. We have long had a policy which calls for what this motion seeks, which is the introduction of legislation to give effect to the 1992 judgment of the Supreme Court in the X case, to protect pregnant women where their lives are in real danger and to give legal certainty to medical professionals.

I wish to restate Sinn Féin's position for the sake of clarity. Sinn Féin is not in favour of abortion. We believe all possible means of education and support services should be in place. However, in cases of rape or incest, or where a woman's life or mental health is at risk or in grave danger, Sinn Féin argues that the final decision should rest with the woman concerned. That said, not all Sinn Féin Members concur with that policy. It is a most contentious issue with widely differing and strongly and sincerely held views in all political parties. Let us be mature and honest, and acknowledge that to each other. It has cut across Irish society in a very divisive way on many occasions. That could be and has been used by political parties and legislators as an excuse for inaction. However, it was never, and is certainly not now, an acceptable reason for doing nothing.

During the course of the debate a number of swipes were made at Sinn Féin. I can understand the motivation behind these. After all, Deputies, who are being whipped to vote against a motion they strongly support, will want to strike out at someone. So it was with Deputy Conway's remarks last night.

She conveniently forgot to mention that the Sinn Féin members in the Dáil last April voted for X-case focused legislation to be processed beyond Second Stage when she and the Labour Party voted against it.
Our position on abortion in the Six Counties has also been misrepresented. Sinn Féin does not support the extension of the 1967 Abortion Act to the North. We say that what is now required is clear and robust guidance which protects the life of the mother. That position is in line with our party policy on an all-Ireland basis and in line with this motion. There is no difference in our policy North and South, as some have tried to claim. Others have been galloping across the media, anxious to be seen, if not heard, talking themselves into knots as they endeavour to avoid the issue.
I believe that the tragic death of Savita Halappanavar and the discussion which has followed has opened the eyes of many people to the dangerous reality that the ambiguity in our laws has created. It was for this reason and this reason alone that Sinn Féin brought forward our Private Members' motion. The Dáil needs to reflect in a timely manner to the concerns of those who elect us and to address the pressing issues that we as legislators are elected to address.
The motion seeks an acknowledgement of realities. It asks the Dáil to acknowledge the reality that the absence of the required legislation denies women protection and the right to obtain a termination in life-threatening circumstances. It asks the Dáil to acknowledge also that the lack of legislation creates an ambiguous legal situation for clinicians. Can anyone here deny, as the motion states, that it is regrettable that successive Governments and Ministers for Health have failed to legislate? That at least is something upon which I and the Minister of State will agree. We need immediate action. We have waited too long and have not received even an indication or a signal that the Government will legislate, and I repeat will legislate. That intention should be made clear by the Government now, here tonight. The Government’s failure to give that commitment is very worrying. So too was the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch’s exhortation that we should let, as she put it "wiser heads prevail". Is that how she and her Labour Party fellow Ministers in Government justified their decision to back the Minister, Deputy James Reilly, when their party and ministerial colleague sacrificed herself on the pyre of accountability and standards in ministerial office? Wiser heads how are you. It is tantamount to saying, "leave it to your betters". I am surprised at the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch and I never thought I would hear such rubbish from her in this Chamber.

I do not know where the Deputy got that interpretation.

The Minister of State got her job.

The Minister of State should face up to the fact that the Government amendment fails to give the required commitment and is accordingly deficient and we cannot accept it. The report of the expert group should be published. Let the legislators and the public see it and judge for themselves. I advise the Minister of State that there is no reason the report should not be published immediately. The Cabinet is wrong to suppress it for another week in order to shield itself from public scrutiny. Its deliberations on the report are covered by Cabinet confidentiality but in the meantime we all have a right to know the subject of those deliberations. It is the least to which we are entitled.

Deputies

Hear, hear.

It is most regrettable that an issue of trust and credibility arose about the HSE inquiry almost as soon as it was established. I do not question the credibility or integrity of any of those named on the initial inquiry panel. However, the now reversed decision to include three consultants from Galway University Hospital left the process open to doubt from the outset. Over and above that consideration, there is a need for an independent public inquiry, separate from the HSE investigation. Savita Halappanavar's family have expressed their lack of faith in the HSE inquiry. They have made the very valid point that if they had not spoken out and if there had not been a public outcry then even the HSE inquiry would not have been established. I believe we all know that. If it turns out, as it appears this evening, that the HSE inquiry does not have the co-operation of the family of Savita and access to her medical records, then it will be untenable and if it proceeds on that basis, it would have no credibility whatsoever.

One thing is certain, a way must be found to ascertain the facts speedily and with the full co-operation of Savita Halappanavar's husband and family and with fairness for all concerned – fairness for Savita, Praveen, the family, the hospital staff and for all pregnant women who use our health care system. There must be an independent public inquiry and it must be fully transparent. We need that decision now.

It has to be stressed that the experience of the vast majority of pregnant women in our health care system is positive and that this State is predominantly a safe place to give birth. No one who is calling for legal change denies that. However, the sad reality is that the legal ambiguity around this issue creates an area of danger to the lives of pregnant women and that danger – no matter how small the number of women who may encounter it – must be removed once and for all.

During the course of the Dáil debate on the Private Members' Bill to legislate in line with the X case judgment last April, the Minister for Health, Deputy James Reilly, stated: "I wish to meet our obligations, not simply to the European Union but more importantly to our citizens. The Government will take the correct action, based on the best advice available to it, to ensure no woman’s life is ever put in danger". That was last April. It is dreadful to contemplate that it has taken the death of a young woman in tragic circumstances to bring this issue back onto the political agenda. There is no excuse for delay. We have had 20 years of delay and prevarication. The issue can no longer be avoided.

Ideally we should all move forward together towards the legislation required. This should not be an issue of party political contention and conflict. We had more than enough of that in the past. We should certainly seek the maximum possible consensus in this Oireachtas and outside it, but ultimately it is the responsibility of Government to govern and that is what the motion before us asks this Government to do.

Let me restate that the Sinn Féin motion is not about abortion. We are not a pro-abortion party and I am not a pro-abortion Deputy. This motion is about protecting the life of pregnant women when that life is in real danger. It also seeks to give legal certainty to medical professionals. As a husband and a father of young daughters I do not want my loved ones to ever have to face what Savita Halappanavar has had to face or pay the tragic price that she has had to pay for the failures of successive Governments to act.

Sinn Féin has brought forward this Dáil motion and has encouraged, in a measured and reasoned way, its acceptance. Most importantly, we have encouraged this Government to act and to fulfil its promises and responsibilities so that the appalling tragedy of the death of Savita Halappanavar will never happen again. I urge all Deputies to support the motion.

Amendment put:
The Dáil divided: Tá, 88; Níl, 53.

  • Bannon, James.
  • Barry, Tom.
  • Burton, Joan.
  • Butler, Ray.
  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Byrne, Catherine.
  • Byrne, Eric.
  • Carey, Joe.
  • Coffey, Paudie.
  • Conaghan, Michael.
  • Conlan, Seán.
  • Connaughton, Paul J.
  • Conway, Ciara.
  • Coonan, Noel.
  • Corcoran Kennedy, Marcella.
  • Coveney, Simon.
  • Creed, Michael.
  • Daly, Jim.
  • Deasy, John.
  • Deenihan, Jimmy.
  • Doherty, Regina.
  • Dowds, Robert.
  • Doyle, Andrew.
  • Durkan, Bernard J.
  • English, Damien.
  • Farrell, Alan.
  • Feighan, Frank.
  • Fitzpatrick, Peter.
  • Flanagan, Charles.
  • Gilmore, Eamon.
  • Griffin, Brendan.
  • Hannigan, Dominic.
  • Harrington, Noel.
  • Harris, Simon.
  • Heydon, Martin.
  • Hogan, Phil.
  • Howlin, Brendan.
  • Humphreys, Heather.
  • Humphreys, Kevin.
  • Keating, Derek.
  • Keaveney, Colm.
  • Kehoe, Paul.
  • Kelly, Alan.
  • Kenny, Enda.
  • Kenny, Seán.
  • Kyne, Seán.
  • Lawlor, Anthony.
  • Lynch, Ciarán.
  • Lyons, John.
  • Maloney, Eamonn.
  • Mathews, Peter.
  • McCarthy, Michael.
  • McEntee, Shane.
  • McFadden, Nicky.
  • McGinley, Dinny.
  • McHugh, Joe.
  • McLoughlin, Tony.
  • McNamara, Michael.
  • Mitchell, Olivia.
  • Mitchell O'Connor, Mary.
  • Mulherin, Michelle.
  • Murphy, Dara.
  • Murphy, Eoghan.
  • Nash, Gerald.
  • Naughten, Denis.
  • Neville, Dan.
  • Nolan, Derek.
  • Noonan, Michael.
  • Ó Ríordáin, Aodhán.
  • O'Donnell, Kieran.
  • O'Donovan, Patrick.
  • O'Sullivan, Jan.
  • Phelan, Ann.
  • Phelan, John Paul.
  • Rabbitte, Pat.
  • Reilly, James.
  • Ring, Michael.
  • Ryan, Brendan.
  • Shatter, Alan.
  • Spring, Arthur.
  • Stagg, Emmet.
  • Stanton, David.
  • Timmins, Billy.
  • Tuffy, Joanna.
  • Twomey, Liam.
  • Wall, Jack.
  • Walsh, Brian.
  • White, Alex.

Níl

  • Adams, Gerry.
  • Boyd Barrett, Richard.
  • Broughan, Thomas P.
  • Browne, John.
  • Calleary, Dara.
  • Collins, Joan.
  • Collins, Niall.
  • Colreavy, Michael.
  • Cowen, Barry.
  • Crowe, Seán.
  • Daly, Clare.
  • Doherty, Pearse.
  • Donnelly, Stephen S.
  • Dooley, Timmy.
  • Ellis, Dessie.
  • Ferris, Martin.
  • Flanagan, Luke 'Ming'.
  • Fleming, Sean.
  • Fleming, Tom.
  • Grealish, Noel.
  • Halligan, John.
  • Healy, Seamus.
  • Healy-Rae, Michael.
  • Higgins, Joe.
  • Kelleher, Billy.
  • Kirk, Seamus.
  • Kitt, Michael P.
  • Lowry, Michael.
  • Mac Lochlainn, Pádraig.
  • Martin, Micheál.
  • McConalogue, Charlie.
  • McDonald, Mary Lou.
  • McGrath, Finian.
  • McGrath, Mattie.
  • McGrath, Michael.
  • McGuinness, John.
  • McLellan, Sandra.
  • Murphy, Catherine.
  • Nulty, Patrick.
  • Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.
  • Ó Cuív, Éamon.
  • Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.
  • Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.
  • O'Brien, Jonathan.
  • O'Dea, Willie.
  • O'Sullivan, Maureen.
  • Pringle, Thomas.
  • Ross, Shane.
  • Smith, Brendan.
  • Stanley, Brian.
  • Tóibín, Peadar.
  • Troy, Robert.
  • Wallace, Mick.
Tellers: Tá, Deputies Emmet Stagg and Paul Kehoe; Níl, Deputies Aengus Ó Snodaigh and Mary Lou McDonald.
Amendment declared carried.
Question put: "That the motion, as amended, be agreed to."
The Dáil divided: Tá, 90; Níl, 53.

  • Bannon, James.
  • Barry, Tom.
  • Breen, Pat.
  • Burton, Joan.
  • Butler, Ray.
  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Byrne, Catherine.
  • Byrne, Eric.
  • Carey, Joe.
  • Coffey, Paudie.
  • Conaghan, Michael.
  • Conlan, Seán.
  • Connaughton, Paul J.
  • Conway, Ciara.
  • Coonan, Noel.
  • Corcoran Kennedy, Marcella.
  • Coveney, Simon.
  • Creed, Michael.
  • Daly, Jim.
  • Deasy, John.
  • Deenihan, Jimmy.
  • Doherty, Regina.
  • Dowds, Robert.
  • Doyle, Andrew.
  • Durkan, Bernard J.
  • English, Damien.
  • Farrell, Alan.
  • Feighan, Frank.
  • Fitzpatrick, Peter.
  • Flanagan, Charles.
  • Gilmore, Eamon.
  • Griffin, Brendan.
  • Hannigan, Dominic.
  • Harrington, Noel.
  • Harris, Simon.
  • Heydon, Martin.
  • Hogan, Phil.
  • Howlin, Brendan.
  • Humphreys, Heather.
  • Humphreys, Kevin.
  • Keating, Derek.
  • Keaveney, Colm.
  • Kehoe, Paul.
  • Kelly, Alan.
  • Kenny, Enda.
  • Kenny, Seán.
  • Kyne, Seán.
  • Lawlor, Anthony.
  • Lynch, Ciarán.
  • Lyons, John.
  • Maloney, Eamonn.
  • Mathews, Peter.
  • McCarthy, Michael.
  • McEntee, Shane.
  • McFadden, Nicky.
  • McGinley, Dinny.
  • McHugh, Joe.
  • McLoughlin, Tony.
  • McNamara, Michael.
  • Mitchell, Olivia.
  • Mitchell O'Connor, Mary.
  • Mulherin, Michelle.
  • Murphy, Dara.
  • Murphy, Eoghan.
  • Nash, Gerald.
  • Naughten, Denis.
  • Neville, Dan.
  • Nolan, Derek.
  • Noonan, Michael.
  • Ó Ríordáin, Aodhán.
  • O'Donnell, Kieran.
  • O'Donovan, Patrick.
  • O'Sullivan, Jan.
  • Phelan, Ann.
  • Phelan, John Paul.
  • Rabbitte, Pat.
  • Reilly, James.
  • Ring, Michael.
  • Ryan, Brendan.
  • Shatter, Alan.
  • Shortall, Róisín.
  • Spring, Arthur.
  • Stagg, Emmet.
  • Stanton, David.
  • Timmins, Billy.
  • Tuffy, Joanna.
  • Twomey, Liam.
  • Wall, Jack.
  • Walsh, Brian.
  • White, Alex.

Níl

  • Adams, Gerry.
  • Boyd Barrett, Richard.
  • Broughan, Thomas P.
  • Browne, John.
  • Calleary, Dara.
  • Collins, Joan.
  • Collins, Niall.
  • Colreavy, Michael.
  • Cowen, Barry.
  • Crowe, Seán.
  • Daly, Clare.
  • Doherty, Pearse.
  • Donnelly, Stephen S.
  • Dooley, Timmy.
  • Ellis, Dessie.
  • Ferris, Martin.
  • Flanagan, Luke 'Ming'.
  • Fleming, Sean.
  • Fleming, Tom.
  • Grealish, Noel.
  • Halligan, John.
  • Healy, Seamus.
  • Healy-Rae, Michael.
  • Higgins, Joe.
  • Kelleher, Billy.
  • Kirk, Seamus.
  • Kitt, Michael P..
  • Lowry, Michael.
  • Mac Lochlainn, Pádraig.
  • Martin, Micheál.
  • McConalogue, Charlie.
  • McDonald, Mary Lou.
  • McGrath, Finian.
  • McGrath, Mattie.
  • McGrath, Michael.
  • McGuinness, John.
  • McLellan, Sandra.
  • Murphy, Catherine.
  • Nulty, Patrick.
  • Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.
  • Ó Cuív, Éamon.
  • Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.
  • Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.
  • O'Brien, Jonathan.
  • O'Dea, Willie.
  • O'Sullivan, Maureen.
  • Pringle, Thomas.
  • Ross, Shane.
  • Smith, Brendan.
  • Stanley, Brian.
  • Tóibín, Peadar.
  • Troy, Robert.
  • Wallace, Mick.
Tellers: Tá, Deputies Emmet Stagg and Paul Kehoe; Níl, Deputies Aengus Ó Snodaigh and Mary Lou McDonald.
Question declared carried.