Report on the Joint Committee on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution: Statements (Resumed)

We now proceed to our consideration of statements on the report of the Joint Committee on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution. Deputy Danny Healy-Rae was in possession when the debate adjourned on the last occasion. He had ten minutes remaining.

I am sure the Ceann Comhairle will appreciate that it is somewhat hard to start off again.

The Deputy had worked up a head of steam the last day but it will be no bother to him.

I reiterate that I firmly believe that life begins when a baby begins to grow inside a woman. I believe it is a crime to take a life. Let us go back to what abortion is. People should educate themselves that abortion is stopping the right of a little baby to live or continue his journey into this life from the mother's womb. I was absolutely disgusted and so upset when I heard the way that it is done, with two injections, first one to paralyse the little baby and then another to stop his heartbeat and stop his life, and not give him the chance to live. That is terrible. Life is a gift. A baby's life is a gift and a treasure. The babies that are born around the world tonight are our future. They are the world ahead of us. I believe that once a baby is conceived it has a right to live.

One morning before I was elected, all the candidates were on Kerry Radio. They asked me the question and I made it clear then and said that I was against abortion. I am against abortion and I will be. In my term as a legislator, I will not effect the killing of unborn babies, whether they be little girls or boys. I have to and will support the small unborn babies who cannot talk for themselves or ask to be let live.

Everyone around the country, inside this Chamber, and the Citizens Assembly which was not elected at all and whose membership I believe was selectively chosen, has spoken and had their input.

The little unborn babies will not be able to say a word. That is where I have a serious difficulty and nothing will ever change my mind that it is my duty, as an elected Member, to speak for them and cite their right to continue their journey into this world. I believe no one in this world has the right to take the life of another. There has been a lot of talk about babies throughout the country. Whether it is a baby who is killed, a child who has grown a bit, a mother or a father, a man living in the lonely countryside who is killed by blackguards or a 90 year old person, no one has the right to end a life or say someone has been there long enough or that he or she should not be there. I believe only God decides when a life should end and it is a good job that it is the way.

I believe girls and women should have access to support. If they become pregnant, are despairing or in bother, they should receive help. They should receive plenty of counselling and financial support and whatever else and if they cannot manage, there are plenty of couples who would gladly adopt and cherish a little baby boy or girl if they were given the chance to do so. There is a great deal more available to women today than there was 50 years ago when girls were frowned upon when they became pregnant out of wedlock, but that is not the story today. There is contraception and so much education available, rightly so. I believe there is fierce respect for women and girls who become pregnant, which is wonderful. It is a gift, a life. I appreciate life and will do so while there is a breath left in my body. I sincerely believe little unborn babies have the right to continue their journey into life.

I believe the eighth amendment has served the country and its people well for over 30 years. Many decent people throughout the country are saying they will not vote in favour of abortion and the trouble is what the wording will be. We were told in recent days, even by the Minister of State, Deputy Damien English, that the Cabinet would decide the wording. Will any other elected Deputy have a say in selecting the wording or what it will be? If that is the way it will be, when I see Ministers and high profile Members absolutely in favour of repealing the eighth amendment and especially if it is to be left to the Cabinet to decide, we will not have a fair wording put to the people.

The Citizens' Assembly had so much to say, but they were not elected by anyone. I am told that there was no representative from 11 counties. How could that be fair? How could the people concerned decide on behalf of rest of the country? That is what I see wrong. I repeat that many throughout the country oppose the removal of the eighth amendment and the question is: what will the wording be? That will be very important. We are not being told what will replace the eighth amendment. It is just being said we should get rid of it. There will be nothing put in its place, but the people are not fools. Many have real concerns about the protection of life and are saying, whether it is a little baby boy or a little baby girl, that he or she has as much right to be in this world, to make his or her journey into the world and be protected in this country and the world outside it. They are so entitled. I repeat that I really mean it when I say it is only God decides when we are to leave this world and that is the way it should be.

I could make other comparisons, but I will not. I will keep it strictly to what many people are saying. They are calling for the protection of a little baby's life before he or she is born, once he or she has a heartbeat. It is not right to think someone will come along and inject a little baby's heart to stop it beating and end his or her life. It is not right now; it was not right then and it will never be right.

There is so much available for women and we should put more supports in place for them, if there is not already enough available by way of education, counselling or financial help to ensure they will be properly looked after because the other aspect is that many women who have an abortion are never the same again, but we do not hear about this. They have many problems, including psychological problems, after it happens. They are never the same again and that has to be remembered in this debate, too. I could never feel as strongly about anything else than the protection of a little unborn baby. If I, as a strong man, would not do that for a small unborn baby who is trying to make his or her way into this world, I would be worth nothing.

With the permission of the House, I will share time with Deputy Eamon Ryan.

I am glad to have the opportunity to speak about the report of the committee and take the opportunity to commend it for the work it has done. When the former Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, proposed the establishment of a citizens' assembly and an Oireachtas committee, some were quite sceptical about that process. However, if we have learned anything in this country, it is that all of the issues around abortion are complex. There is a wide range of views and a whole load of factors that come into play in dealing with the issue. For that reason, it is not something about which someone can merely talk off the top of his or her head or on which he or she can come to a decision without being informed. There are many legal and medical aspects with which people need to familiarise themselves and they need to tease out and look at what they believe is the best way to address the problem, whether it be through legislation or the holding of a referendum to amend the Constitution. It requires a lot of teasing out and the taking of expert advice. That is what happened at the Citizens' Assembly. People may complain about the counties from which its members were drawn or whatever else, but, in the main, it was seen as a fair and objective process. It drew together 100 citizens who took the time and devoted themselves to engaging on the issue. It was a worthwhile process.

The Citizens' Assembly was followed in a similar vein by the Joint Committee on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution. I commend all of its members on volunteering and putting time into researching, listening and learning about the many aspects of the abortion issue.

I think all of them made a sincere and genuine effort to grapple with the issue. They came forward finally, in the relatively tight timescale allocated to them, with a comprehensive report on the matter, and we should all thank the committee and be grateful to its members for the efforts they made.

Regarding the approach that was taken, I had quite a similar experience in the Committee on the Future of Healthcare, whereby members came in from diverse political positions, listened to the experts and the evidence-based information that was given to them and came to conclusions. The same kind of approach was taken by the Committee on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution, whereby people engaged, listened to experts and to presentations on the ways in which this issue is dealt with in other countries, got legal and medical advice, grappled with the topics and all the aspects of the issue and came up with what I believe is a balanced and comprehensive report. We owe them our gratitude for having put in that work.

We now need clarification on a number of different aspects of the report. One of the key aspects that is emerging at present is the question of the approach to be taken as to whether to repeal or replace. I think this is a matter of concern to many of us because it is important not only that we move forward as quickly as possible and have the referendum, but also that there not be any ambiguity or uncertainty surrounding the matter. There are conflicting messages coming across as to the best approach to take. We know that the Citizens' Assembly, for example, received legal advice that the best approach would be to replace, that is, to state in the Constitution that responsibility and power to legislate in the area of abortion would pass to the Oireachtas. That was surprising at the time but that was the legal advice. Then we heard that the advice given to the Committee on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution contradicted that advice. We did not have the benefit of being able to read or listen to that advice because it was provided in private, but it raised the contrary argument. Members of the committee have suggested that the overwhelming weight of the advice they received was that inserting a new clause requiring the Oireachtas to legislate would be highly unusual and could actually represent a violation of the separation of powers. That is a worrying aspect. However, then we heard from Government that the Attorney General advised that it would be better to have a provision in the Constitution.

The last thing we want is to go through a referendum and then for Supreme Court cases to be taken challenging the result of it, dragging out the matter indefinitely, so we need clarity at this point. There is conflicting legal advice, and we all deserve - the public deserves - to have early clarification on that. I call on the Government to publish the Attorney General's advice. I know it is not general practice to do so, but it is very important in this case that that advice is published and that a decision is taken in this House, with the benefit of that advice, on the most expeditious and soundest way forward regarding a referendum. There would be a precedent in this regard because in 1983 the then Taoiseach, Garret FitzGerald, published the advice of the Attorney General. We know it was not followed at the time and we have had endless problems because of that, but that is the precedent that was set. Given we are discussing the same issue and everybody wants to avoid legal uncertainty, I call on the Government to make that advice available to the House.

Some people have difficulty with the question of the 12 week limit and the availability of abortion under a doctor's direction in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. Again, if one considers the time and effort that went into this at the committee, it is quite understandable why it came to this conclusion. I think the vast majority of people in this country would say that in cases of rape or incest, no one has the right to insist that a woman who has suffered from either of those awful experiences should be prevented from taking whatever action she believes is right to terminate that resulting pregnancy, and there is no way of legislating for that. The only way one can provide for people in those appalling situations is to have a provision whereby abortion would be available up to a certain time limit, and I think that was very much a factor in the committee's recommendations.

Another issue which was a new phenomenon that many people had not been aware of is that in recent times there has been very wide use of the abortion pill. We are not talking about surgical abortion in many cases now but rather a person taking a pill, ideally on prescription from a doctor, at home and terminating a pregnancy in that way. Unfortunately, that is not an option for Irish women because of the eighth amendment. It blocks that option. The present situation we have of increasing numbers of Irish women ordering the abortion pill over the Internet is highly unsatisfactory and dangerous. All these treatments should be provided under a doctor's direction, and the only way that can be done satisfactorily at present is to ensure access in those first 12 weeks.

This must be seen in a wider context. We need much better emphasis on the questions of sex education and access to contraception, including emergency contraception. It is crazy that some of our contraceptive methods are subject to VAT. Some are quite expensive for younger people, and that must be addressed. We also need to look at this in the context of having proper sex education in our schools. We are still a long way from all our young people being taught about having healthy and responsible attitudes to sex. The other thing is to see all this in the context of a modern maternal health care system, and again, we are some way from that. For example, no scans are available or recommended as part of the maternity strategy within the first trimester.

There are many different aspects to this issue. We must ensure balance but, ultimately, I very much support the recommendations of the committee, and the Social Democrats will campaign strongly for repeal of the eighth.

The Green Party will also support repeal of the eighth amendment to the Constitution and the commitment to enact legislation along the lines of the many recommendations of both the Citizens' Assembly and the Oireachtas committee to provide for the choice for women to have an abortion up to the first three months of pregnancy in this State, overseen and managed by Irish hospitals rather than in the UK. This is not an easy position. Over the years in our party, like many others, there have been very different views, and there is a respect for different views - there always has been - in recognition that this is an issue of conscience. This is a complex and highly important issue. Our own position changed about three or four years ago, I think. Members of the youth wing of the Green Party, through our constitutional process, said the party's position had to change, which it did. It has been further revised in the past eight months, after the conclusion of the Citizens' Assembly's deliberations on the matter, moving, as I said, towards the position that was outlined by that group. I commend the Citizens' Assembly on the work it did and the members of the Oireachtas committee on the way in which they carried out their work, which I think is helping us in how we have this debate. Other parties very much objected to the use of the assembly. I think it worked and has helped us and I hope it can lead to a respectful debate on all sides.

We have respect for people on all sides. I have very good friends who will be on the other side of the campaign.

I agree with them that life does start at conception. I do not see another way it can be assessed. The other day, a very good friend asked me whether he could provide me with details on what exactly that means at each stage. I know because I see people campaigning outside here with large posters showing in very graphic ways a foetus at six, eight or ten weeks and that is a reality. That is life as it is evolving in the womb. My position has changed in recent years. I believe what we tried to do in 1983, in trying to balance, or acknowledge, that life and trying to guarantee it, at the same time as having regard to the equal life of the mother, was not correct thing to do and has not worked. At various stages in the legal wranglings of past 35 years that has been clear. Relatively early on, Harry Whelehan brought to a head that the question on the right to travel had to be taken into account. We, as a people, at that moment clearly said there is not equality between the right to life and the right of the mother to choose how that pregnancy would proceed, and on that occasion we decided on the right to choose. At every step of the way, the legal teasing out of this issue in the various cases, including the X case and Y case, has shown that legal attempt to protect the right to life has not worked and will not work and needs to be changed.

Ultimately, the reason this is the case is because if a woman is in a pregnancy that she does not want to continue with, or that she cannot continue with, she has the ability, and in my mind the right, to choose to terminate it to make sure it does not go to full term. That is a reality that has existed in this country as far back as we can recall. Our history and archaeology are full of cases where we see that women made that choice down through millennia and it is something that is not going to change. If women are making that choice we need to support them, to be with them and to provide the best medical care, and that is why I believe we should repeal the eighth amendment and provide for that choice in a more honest way. I do not mean honest in the sense I am accusing the other side of being dishonest, but honest in terms of recognising that is what is happening and that we should not abandon our women in the choices they make.

I would like to argue that something we can have in this debate is the chance to broaden it out, to see points where there might be agreement on such choices. There is an area on which I find agreement with friends on the pro-life side, if one calls it that as I consider myself pro-life also. The one point where I have agreement with friends on the other side of this referendum debate is that we should try to make sure we really provide a free choice for women in every circumstance and in every different pregnancy. With regard to our current economic system, whatever the range of complex arrangements that leads to a situation where a woman decides to terminate her pregnancy, on many occasions it is driven by the economic realities in the State that make it incredibly difficult to countenance raising a child. Earlier we had a debate on the issue of rent and housing. It relates to this issue of abortion, because for many young couples or women, faced with a pregnancy they did not expect, where everything is not set up, where they do not have the house and home and everything ready to go, it can be an impossible situation which may drive people to say they cannot do it. Our entire system is based on a property market that is not serving and suiting our people.

I would go further and say deliberate political choices have been made in recent years by all parties which provide a limitation to the choices that a woman might have. I will cite the example from five or six years ago of the withdrawal of support for lone parents. That was a really strong statement to young women that if they are lone parents in a difficult pregnancy situation the State will not support them. That is what it said. Last week, we saw women outside the Dáil making the valid case that they were discriminated against in 2012 when their pensions were cut. One can only agree the reason is they had taken the choice at some point to act as a parent or carer at home and that is not valued by the State or the Government at this time.

If we look at everything we do in the budget, and at our tax laws and supports, they are all about labour activation, getting everyone working and getting the economy growing and keeping it growing. It is not about creating a State where a young person in their early or mid-20s, even if she got pregnant in a situation which was not completely planned, would know she could do it because she would know the State really supported what she would have to do in the next few years. We need to do this at the same time as we repeal the eighth amendment so we really have proper choices to help our young women in difficult circumstances.

I agree with the provision of a three-month timeline because I disagree with the other methods one might have to parse out one type of pregnancy versus another, and stating someone can have access to a termination in X, Y or Z circumstances, as if we can parse out the values of different types of pregnancies and different types of life. It is more appropriate to set a timeline, provide the mother with the choice, provide support with doctors, and try to provide everything we can make that choice as free as possible.

I would prefer repeal and then for us to set out the guidelines on how we would legislate. The courts will and should listen to the people in any referendum. They do not necessarily need us to set out in the Constitution the details of what the Oireachtas can do. It is appropriate for us to try to do it ourselves. It is appropriate that we look for the support and help of the Medical Council in this regard. When it comes to legislating on what will be a very complex legal area, and no matter what we do in our Constitution, rather than trying to legislate for every twist and turn, it is appropriate for us to look to the Medical Council, which has expertise in the myriad of cases because every pregnancy is different with regard to the balancing act between protecting life in all its different forms.

I appreciate the chance to speak in the debate and I look forward to the referendum, where we will campaign. We will do so in a respectful manner but will look for repeal of the eighth amendment.

I will share my time with Deputy Butler. I welcome the opportunity to make a contribution to this most important of debates. As did other colleagues, I thank all the members of the Citizens' Assembly for their work and contribution and, of course, our Oireachtas colleagues on the joint committee for the painstaking work in which they engaged over a number of months. It certainly was not an easy body of work. We owe them all a debt of gratitude for their commitment and for the sacrifice they made. I know each of them was under considerable pressure to declare positions, and whether we agree or disagree with the final outcome they are to be thanked.

The calls that have been made so far for a respectful debate on the issue have been well made. It is important we all recognise that fundamentally this is a deeply personal issue, and it is a matter for each individual citizen, as part of a referendum, to decide what he or she believes is right. It is important that all of us are non-judgmental in this regard and that we respect the views and opinions of others. I sincerely hope the debate will be conducted along these lines. It will not be conducted like that online. Any Member of the House who declare an opinion or view on this would be well advised not to go on Twitter to see what people are saying about them, irrespective of what position they have taken.

From my point of view, I will support the holding of a referendum. That will involve voting in favour of the referendum Bill. This is because ultimately the Constitution, Bunreacht na hÉireann, is owned by the Irish people and it is a matter for the Irish people to decide what is set out in the Constitution. A significant number of people, we do not know how many, want to see a change to Article 40.3.3°.

I will support the holding of the referendum when that Bill comes before this House.

Our party took the position in 2013 that there would be a freedom of conscience vote and I was one of the people at the time who advocated the approach, which was correct. It will now be replicated as part of this process, wherever it ultimately leads. It is not appropriate that I or any other member of our parliamentary party would seek to impose our views on other members in the party. It is very obvious there are divided opinions within our party, as there are in every strand of Irish society. We have adopted a mature approach in that respect.

With respect to the recommendations of the joint committee, it is my view that many people - I count myself as one - favour some change but certainly not change along the lines of what the joint committee has recommended. The recommendations go too far and the Government would be making a major mistake if it put the question along the lines of what the committee has recommended. It would constitute a binary or black-and-white choice but many people in our society have a much more nuanced view of the matter. Nobody can say how many such people there are but although they recognise the issues with Article 40.3.3°, they do not support access to unrestricted abortion up to 12 weeks. That is my position. I do not support unrestricted abortion to 12 weeks.

I have read the evidence and legal testimony and presentations given to the committee. I support retaining constitutional protection for the unborn. I appreciate the evidence given by the medics and it must be taken on board in respect of the practical difficulties of differentiating between where a risk to the health of the mother becomes a risk to her life. We have no option but to deal with that and other matters. I favour replacing the existing Article 40.3.3° with constitutional protection for the unborn that permits the Oireachtas to legislate within certain confines. That would not be easy and I am aware of the difficulties that Deputy Shortall referred to in respect of legislating. These are not insurmountable, however, and accepting that they are insurmountable means we would encroach on the most fundamental right of all. The right to life of the unborn should remain in the Constitution but in a practical and workable manner. That is my view.

There is a real risk that if the Government goes down the road it is considering, people in facing the referendum will be confronted with an unknown. If it is intended that Article 40.3.3° is to be repealed, there will be a statement of intent from the Government and I presume there will be heads of a Bill that it would seek to introduce to this House. However, there is no certainty as to the shape of the final legislation that could be adopted after a referendum. We must all accept that. This is a minority Government and its main party has correctly agreed to a freedom of conscience vote. Our party also has a freedom of conscience vote. We have already heard from a number of Deputies in the House who favour repeal and reject the notion that there should be any 12-week limit. That is a reality and they will seek to amend any legislation and extend the 12-week limit to "as late as necessary", which is a term used by a number of them. The people voting on the question of repeal simpliciter with some form of statement of intent from the Government to introduce a Bill will be very unsure as to what they will ultimately get by way of legislation passed by this House. That is a point that will be consistently made over the course of the campaign.

I do not envy people in making up their minds on this matter. All any of us can do is say what we believe. Nobody can criticise people for stating their own beliefs, based on personal conviction. That is what I will do over the course of a campaign that will inevitably follow in the coming weeks and months. People should engage in an honest, open and respectful debate without judgment. Ultimately, this is a matter for the Irish people to decide. The beauty of our democracy is that my vote, the Minister of State's vote and the Ceann Comhairle's vote in a referendum is of equal value and weight to that of Joe Murphy, Mary McCarthy and every other citizen in our country. That is how it should be.

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for the opportunity to speak on one of the most important issues that has come before this House, the report of the Joint Committee on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution. I also thank the Oireachtas Members who gave their time to the committee, and I know this was very difficult. I was not a member of the committee but from the outset I engaged with the process by reading as many of the transcripts and watching as many witnesses as I could. I read both the majority and minority reports over Christmas. We should be clear there was not a consensus in the committee.

I would like to continue the respectful debate of this very emotional matter. Any modern democracy should be capable of debating this in a respectful way, trying to address genuine concerns while preserving the life of the unborn child. As a Fianna Fáil Deputy I will state my position. I am thankful I am in a party where I can express this and follow a vote of conscience. It is very important to me and I have been consumed by the topic for quite a while. I accept my position will differ from others. I accept that and I hope others will accept my position. I made my position clear before I ever became a Deputy here in the 32nd Dáil. My local people know how I stand. I welcome the opportunity today to put my position clearly on the record of the Dáil. I want to continue to support the unborn child's place in the Constitution. I am against repealing the eighth amendment. I have always supported the holding of a referendum. We live in a democracy and people are entitled to a vote and a say on this. I accept it is 35 years since people got the opportunity to vote on this. I never got the opportunity to do so.

The committee recommended that the law should be amended to permit termination of pregnancy with no restriction as to reason - I have grappled with those words - provided it is availed of through a GP-led service, delivered in a clinical context as determined by law and licensing practice in Ireland, with gestational limits of 12 weeks, or three months. I keep going back to the phrase "with no restriction as to reason". I will be honest in saying I cannot understand how anybody could propose "with no restriction as to reason" in terminating a 12-week-old baby being carried by a mother.

I should point out that this would go beyond the position in Britain, where the Abortion Act 1967 still requires two doctors to form the opinion in good faith that an abortion is necessary to prevent a risk to the mental or physical health of the pregnant woman. We all know this law is applied in such a way as to provide abortion on demand, with one in every five pregnancies in Britain ending in abortion. That is 200,000 abortions performed in Britain per year, with stronger laws than were proposed by the Citizens' Assembly. Currently, in Ireland, one in every 13 pregnancies unfortunately ends in abortion.

The first mistake the committee made was on 18 October last, at the third meeting with witnesses appearing before it. A vote was taken at that meeting. The committee members decided then, not by a majority, that Article 40.3.3° should not be retained in full. I remember thinking that night that it was a case of job done, pull down the shutters and close the curtains. The decision had been made without even listening to all the witnesses or viewpoints. Why would one do that on the third week of witnesses appearing before the committee? Why would one not wait to hear all the evidence to be provided before making up one's mind? I was very concerned and saddened at that stage. Pro-life witnesses wondered if there was a point in appearing before the committee when the committee had made up its mind at that early stage. There has been much criticism that the committee was biased. There is no doubt about it. When one looks at the number of witnesses who appeared before the committee one can see how many were on one side of this debate and how many were on the other. We are not trying to put people in boxes, but it was quite obvious that the pro-life opportunity was not presented as well as it should have been.

In addition, I was struck that the word used most often in the committee was "foetus". I have never heard a word used so often in a committee. I am lucky enough to have three children. My youngest is 12 years old now and I remember often walking in the street when I was pregnant. I never recall anybody saying to me, "Congratulations Mary, you are expecting a foetus".

People always said, "Congratulations, you are expecting a baby". It is my firm belief that the unborn baby must be protected in the Constitution. That is certainly where my vote will be. The committee witnesses spoke about a foetus and terminating the life of the foetus. What lovely language to use when, ultimately, one is aborting a baby. Everything to be found in a fully grown person is formed in a baby at eight weeks in the womb. At 11 weeks, a baby in the womb has fingerprints and its fingernails appear. At 12 weeks in the womb the baby's lips open and close, it turns its head and it can leap around the womb. To be quite clear, I am not a member of the pro-life group or the Iona Institute. I am a person who has formulated my own opinions and I stand proudly to articulate them tonight.

Another thing that really disappointed me in the committee is that the only option it gave for a crisis pregnancy was abortion, and I watched many hours of its proceedings. There was no discussion, or very little, of the option of adoption or fostering. Little thought was given to perinatal hospices for babies born with life-limiting conditions. A mother contacted me last Friday. She told me that, unfortunately, her baby had been diagnosed with a fatal foetal abnormality or, as I call it, a life-limiting condition. She and her husband decided they would have their baby. She told me that she will never forget the nine months that her baby lived. She will never forget holding her baby. Now, she has the little lock of hair and a grave to visit. I realise life is not simple for everybody, but there are options and we must examine them.

There cannot be only one solution to a crisis pregnancy. It cannot be the case that the only word offered by the committee is "abortion". Where are the wraparound supports for the babies and their parents? Let us be quite clear about something because I believe there has not been enough talk about it. Some 25 legal abortions were carried out in Ireland this year under the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013, where the life of the mother was put first. We must be clear about that. We are living a society where the life of a mother who presents at a hospital can be put first. It is being put first in those instances. We must talk about that.

There are different options open to us. One is a system that protects life in all its forms, from conception to natural death, and stands squarely and strongly behind those with crisis pregnancies. It also stands squarely and strongly behind parents who know that their children, whatever ill health or disability the children have, are assured of comprehensive and compassionate health care which supports those children through those challenges, whatever their lives might be. Every Member of the Oireachtas received an email today from the Down Syndrome Ireland, which I read with interest. It is concerned that children born with Down's syndrome are being used as a kind of tool in this debate. That is so wrong. Children who are diagnosed with disabilities in the womb are as entitled to a life as the next child. Those children deserve the love of their mother and father and of their brothers and sisters. Unfortunately, a society has developed in other countries in the world where children with disabilities are not respected as much as they should be and where a termination or abortion seems to be the only way forward.

To conclude, I wish to state on the record that I, Mary Butler, Deputy for Waterford in the 32nd Dáil, will never be in favour of stopping a heartbeat.

I commend the work of both the Citizens' Assembly and the committee on the eighth amendment and especially my three party colleagues Deputies Jonathan O'Brien and Louise O'Reilly and Senator Paul Gavan. I also commend the chairperson of the committee, Senator Noone.

The committee has recommended that the eighth amendment be removed from the Constitution and has made recommendations on the grounds on which abortion should be permitted in Ireland. This is an historic time in the history of the State. There has been an incredible shift in public opinion on women's rights in respect of reproductive health. This shift in public opinion, and in the opinion of Members of the House, is proof of the importance of informed, factual debate. The progressive, practical recommendations made by the committee members, who have had the opportunity to listen to and question experts on women's health, prove the importance of informed debate. It is critical that this continues as we move towards a referendum. For too long the debate has been divisive, personal and, in some cases, untruthful. There has been a significant amount of discussion about the patriarchal regime that has been in place in the State since its foundation. The Catholic Church and the State conspired to inflict a patriarchal, sexist society on Ireland. The eighth amendment is a relic from a bygone era. It was outrageous in 1983 and it remains a bar to equality in 2018. We have come too far to allow it to remain unconstitutional for women in Ireland to access health care.

We must remember the consequences of the eighth amendment. In the X case the State dragged a child who had been raped and was pregnant as a result through the courts to attempt to hold her prisoner and force her to remain pregnant with the rapist's child.

That is the legacy of the eighth amendment. Women have died because of it. Repealing the eighth will mean that women will not have to die in the shameful, sad way Savita and other women have. Doctors will not have to have their hands tied in difficult cases. It is my sincere hope that the amendment will be repealed and doctors will be able to provide health care based solely on clinical need. That is hardly ground-breaking but until now has not been the case for many pregnant women in Ireland.

Members of the Oireachtas now have responsibility. We are legislators with the privilege of representing our constituents and have a responsibility to see the recommendations of the committee through the Houses. I am disappointed in Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil. Politicians need to be brave and show leadership on this issue. It is of concern that neither party thinks it sufficiently important a matter to impose a party whip. This is a matter of public health. We only ask that Members give women the option to choose what is right for them. Young women are counting on this and should not be exported on the lonely journeys to England to access health care. It is barbaric to have women taking tablets on their own to bring about terminations without medical supervision and we cannot have it. Politicians need to have the courage of their convictions and speak out in favour of women's health and fundamental rights. My party colleagues and I are committed to ensuring that all women accessing maternity services North and South of the Border have the highest quality of care and access to all appropriate health care options as advised by health care professionals. I urge the Minister, Deputy Harris, to ensure the referendum is held in May because the matter needs to be settled and the people need to have their say. An entire generation, the very people affected by this amendment, have not had that opportunity.

I call Deputy Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire.

On a point of order, I do not wish to interrupt but this is the most serious debate that we will have in the House. We are here at this hour of the night-----

We are about to adjourn. It is 10.55 p.m.

Yes. Where are all the Government Deputies? It is shameful. The Minister, Deputy Harris, came in and gave his speech and is now missing from the Chamber. I apologise to the Ceann Comhairle but I am calling a quorum because this level of attendance shows a shameful disrespect for human life.

A quorum is called.

Notice taken that 20 Members were not present; House counted and 20 Members not being present,

As it is now 10.58 p.m., even if there were a quorum present we would not be able to proceed because the order of the House is that it shall adjourn at 11 p.m. In light of that, the debate is adjourned until it resumes on the next scheduled occasion.

The Dáil adjourned at 10.59 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 24 January 2018.