I thank the Office of the Ceann Comhairle for selecting this matter.
With respect to Government-sponsored forums, there is a clear and important need for the highest measures of impartiality and independence to be observed if we wish to avoid the charge that such forums are merely proxy vehicles designed to implement Government policies. I have a particular concern about what is perhaps the most important Government-sponsored forum that is currently deliberating, namely the so-called Citizens Assembly.
There are mounting concerns about the composition of the expert panel and the robustness of the selection methodology that was employed by the Red C polling company. The published details on the membership of the Citizens Assembly reveal that no fewer than 11 counties in the State do not have a single representative in the deliberations of the assembly. Citizens from counties Tipperary, Leitrim, Cavan, Louth, Sligo, Longford, Offaly, Kilkenny, Carlow, Waterford and Kerry are entirely absent, which cannot be accepted. In light of this information, the pretence that the assembly is a remotely democratic process cannot be maintained. It is being asked to deliberate on and recommend profound changes to the Constitution of the nation that will affect all of us, born and unborn, for generations to come. Yet, counties with a combined population of at least 970,000 people have not one representative.
From the outset serious questions have been raised about the integrity of this absurd process which has been established as a parallel legislative body to the Oireachtas. This is deeply concerning in its own right, and I have made my views known about this several times. There is an imperative to question the validity of the entire process and the robustness of the polling methodology that was employed to select members by Red C. Why, for instance, despite Red C specifically reminding people who were polled that active campaigners on either side of the issues were to be excluded, was at least one high-profile social media campaigner for repeal selected? The person has now been removed.
I have total faith in Ms Justice Laffoy. Unfortunately, of the five people chosen as expert advisers, two have previously stated positions that raise serious questions about their suitability. They were appointed by the Government - the Minister might tell me by whom. In 2000 Dr. Declan Keane, when he was master of Holles Street, gave evidence before an Oireachtas all-party committee on the Constitution. In the course of his testimony he expressed dissatisfaction that abortions for fatal abnormalities could not be performed in Irish hospitals. Since the question of whether the Constitution should be amended to allow for abortions for so-called fatal fetal abnormalities is one of the key issues on which the assembly will be called to give its opinion, it is surely inappropriate that one of the supposedly impartial experts should be someone with a clearly stated position on one side of this controversial question.
Even more problematic than Dr. Keane, however, is the presence of Professor Deirdre Madden from University College Cork. She has a long record on a range of issues related to human life and dignity. Professor Madden joined the commission on human reproduction set up by the former Minister, Deputy Micheál Martin. The commission issued its controversial report in 2005 and recommended that destructive research on human embryos should be permitted. Prominent among Professor Madden's activities and particularly relevant is her membership of the expert group established by the Department of Health to study the options available to comply with rulings of the European Court of human rights on the cases of A, B and C v. Ireland. Not one of the options endorsed by this group excluded abortion.
Some 900,000 people have been excluded from the process. We now find that the expert group is not fit for purpose. I have great faith in Ms Justice Laffoy being able to deal with the assembly. She will rely heavily on so-called eminent people to advise her. If they have this record, how did they get through the ropes? How are they allowed in? Serious questions need to be answered by the Government.